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Mark Arbour

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  1. The latest installment in the CAP Series, Black Widow, has officially been launched. You'll find the prologue and the first chapter here. By the way, to get updates on this story, follow the link above, and simply click on "follow this story" in the upper right part of the blurb. If you follow all of my stories, you can actually get updates on everything, by going here and clicking on "follow this author." An FYI...I had planned to write a number of chapters of this story and publish them a bit later than this, to maintain a more regular posting pace, but the US Supreme Court decision spurred me to go ahead and launch the story now.
  2. Mark Arbour

    Black Widow (Story Discussion)

    My initial thoughts on Dillon are that he's a rebound, but then again, that's quite subject to change. 😉
  3. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 15

    September, 1800 HMS Valiant, Copenhagen Harbor “My lord, the Danish ships give us a good beacon,” Schein said. “They are moored at the start of the middle ground.” “Could we take this channel and avoid them entirely?” Daventry asked, pointing at the King’s Channel. “We could, my lord,” Schein answered. “It may not be as well buoyed, and it is not as well known.” His answer meant nothing to Granger, who had already decided on his course of action. “Set a course to pass to the north of those Danish ships,” Granger ordered Weston. “Once we are past them, we will wear ship and then sail down the Hollander Channel.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said, and took control of the ship. The wind was from the Northwest, so they were clawing into it as they headed for the Danish ships, but once beyond them, they would be running before it. “You are going to challenge them?” Daventry asked Granger. “I am,” Granger replied. “I am recalling my conversation with the Crown Prince. It seemed that his main motive was to intimidate me into not going into the Baltic, and that became even more clear when we had our discussion with Cavendish. I think that he may be trying to bluff us into doing what he wants.” “I reached the same conclusion,” Daventry agreed, still not following Granger’s rationale. “These two ships are clearly here to do the same thing,” Granger said. “So I am, in essence, calling his bluff.” “And you are not worried about facing those ships in battle?” Daventry asked. “I think that at most we will have to exchange a few broadsides with the battleship, and while we would incur some damage, I am confident we would inflict more on that Danish ship,” Granger said. “But she is a battleship, and I have seen what happens when a battleship attacks a frigate,” Daventry objected, remembering how the Success had been pulverized in her battle with Généreux. “That is true, but Valiant was once a battleship quite similar to that vessel, and has the scantlings to stand up to her in battle,” Granger said confidently. “In addition, while she has some 20 extra guns, our carronades are considerably more powerful at close range. I am confident that we can more than hold our own against that vessel.” Granger did feel that confident, but he was hoping that the Danish ship would hold her fire, because a pitched battle with Valiant would create a lot of damage and casualties on both sides, and Granger still had a mission to accomplish. “So you think a show of confidence at this point would be helpful?” Daventry asked. “I do, and I think it will cause Whitworth some problems, and that makes it an even more compelling course of action,” Granger joked. “And now you know why I would only go on this mission if you were my captain,” Daventry said smugly. “I am flattered,” Granger lied. “I will be aloft.” That last sentence was directed to Weston. Granger strode to the main shrouds and climbed up to the maintop. “Lot of traffic, my lord,” the lookout said respectfully. He was a seaman named Soames, an older man who had originally served with Granger aboard Bacchante. He wasn’t very good with most shipboard tasks, but he was an excellent lookout. Granger trained his glass toward the Sound and saw a relatively large group of ships working their way upwind, making slow progress. Some of the ships had their decks piled high with lumber, while even those who weren’t were quite low in the water. “They appear to be a mixed bag,” Granger said, noticing that the flags they flew were almost all neutral. “How many are there?” “I make 20 ships, my lord, ten American, three Swedes, two Danes, two Prussians, and three of ours,” Soames said. “That’s my read on it as well,” Granger said. “Looks like one of the ships is trying to catch up to the convoy, my lord,” Soames noted. He’d called it a convoy, which was a convenient enough term, but they didn’t have a warship escort. “Maybe she fell behind over the night.” “Maybe,” Granger said, even as he trained his glass farther down the Sound. Even then, it was difficult to get a feel for that ship from the maintop. “I think we’ll need to go up to the main topgallant.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Soames said. Granger began to climb up higher, while Soames mirrored his moves on the opposite shrouds. They reached the crosstrees and secured themselves, then refocused on this stray ship. As Granger studied the vessel, he felt his blood begin to race, as if it were not already moving fast enough due to their impending encounter with the Danish warships. “That is no merchant,” Granger said. “And if I’m not mistaken, she’s flying French colors.” “That’s what I see too, begging your pardon my lord,” he said. “I’d say she’s a privateer, pierced for ten guns a side.” Granger glanced ahead and saw that they were nearing the Danish ships, and saw a boat preparing to put off from the Danish ship of the line with an officer aboard. He would be needed on the quarterdeck. “Keep your eye on that French ship,” Granger ordered. “As she draws closer, you may remove yourself back down to the maintop.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Soames said. He watched the French privateer until he saw the boat push off from the Danish ship. Granger grabbed a backstay, and took more care with his descent since he usually didn’t have to climb quite this high, and sliding down on a rope was always a dodgy business. He landed on the deck with a light thud and addressed the officers gathered there. “There’s a group of some 20 merchants working their way through the Sound, with three of our ships included in that number,” he explained. “There’s a French privateer chasing after them.” “It seems we are to be busy today, my lord,” Weston said with his usual cheerfulness. They hailed the Danish boat, and then prepared to receive the officer she carried. A young lieutenant hauled himself aboard and smartly saluted the quarterdeck. “Welcome, Lieutenant,” Granger said in English, hoping the man spoke that language. “I am Viscount Granger, captain of His Britannic Majesty’s ship Valiant.” “It is a pleasure to meet your lordship,” the lieutenant replied in English that was quite good but accented. “I am Lieutenant Willemoes, of His Danish Majesty’s ship Holsteen.” “The pleasure is most certainly mine,” Granger said, bowing in a courtly way. “Captain Arenfelt, the commander of Holsteen, has sent me to tell your lordship that he has been ordered to dissuade your lordship from traveling through the Hollander channel,” Willemoes said. He had clearly rehearsed those words, at least in his mind, from the definitive way that he said them. “That is most unfortunate, since I am tasked to do just that,” Granger said. “That is indeed most unfortunate, my lord, but those are the orders Captain Arenfelt has been issued,” Willemoes replied. “When I left Copenhagen a few days ago, my understanding was that our two countries had negotiated a treaty to maintain the peace,” Granger said. “Does a state of war now exist between His Britannic Majesty and His Danish Majesty?” “The situation is tenuous, as you must realize, my lord,” Willemoes said, grappling with the strange diplomatic status quo. “I would ask you to convey my compliments to Captain Arenfelt and inform him that I intend to sail through the Hollander Channel,” Granger said firmly. “If he fires on this vessel, then a state of war will exist between our two countries. If he does not, then things will remain as they are.” Willemoes stared at him, as if he were planning to argue, but the steely resolve was visible in Granger’s eyes, and Willemoes must have realized there was nothing to be gained by further discussion. “I will convey your message to Captain Arenfelt, my lord.” “Thank you, Lieutenant,” Granger said. Willemoes bowed briefly, then exited over the side, back into his boat, which rowed quickly back toward Holsteen. “And the attempts at bluff continue,” Daventry said to Granger with an amused smile. “If they aren’t bluffing, we will soon have some iron about our heads,” Granger commented. Willemoes reboarded his ship, and the result of his return was soon heard as her drums began to beat. They watched as Holsteen, and the frigate beyond her, beat to quarters and then ran out their guns. “Mr. Grenfell,” Granger said loudly, into the waist. Grenfell was below with the main batteries. He moved so he could look up at Granger. “My lord?” “I think it unlikely that we will receive any fire from these Danish ships, but just in case, have your men lie down on the deck,” Granger ordered. That would at least let the men working the 24-pounders on Valiant’s main deck avoid some flying splinters if they were to receive Danish fire. Those on the quarterdeck and forecastle would be much more vulnerable. “Aye aye, my lord,” he said crisply. “Tell them not to get too comfortable,” Granger joked. “If that happens, they’ll be required to jump up and return fire.” “I’ll let them know, my lord,” Grenfell said, grinning. They drew closer and closer to the Holsteen, and with each inch, so too did the tension increase. “We’ll know soon enough,” Daventry observed. “Indeed we will,” Granger said. Holsteen would see that Valiant had not run out her guns, which lay ready but waiting behind sealed ports, but she would also be able to easily see that Valiant had cleared for action and that her men were standing ready at their guns. The Danes would know they were ready to respond. Granger stood on the deck like a statue, with Weston and Daventry on either side of him, acting as if they were impervious to Danish cannonballs, as Valiant drew parallel to Holsteen. Granger removed his hat to salute the Danish ship, his moves matched by Weston and Daventry, while Travers dipped their flag in salute. The Danish officers did not remove their hats, and their ship did not dip her flag, but she did not fire either. Valiant sailed placidly by the Holsteen, then they repeated their salutes as they passed the frigate, which responded in the same way as her flagship by not responding at all. Flags began to fly up from the Trekroner Fort, followed by flags from the Holsteen as Captain Arenfelt evidently tried to explain what had happened, but that mattered little to Valiant as she sailed beyond them. “My lord, I recommend that we wear ship and enter the Hollander Channel,” Schein suggested. “Excellent, Mr. Schein,” Granger said. “Hands to wear ship!” Enough men left their guns to handle the sails, and Granger turned Valiant neatly so she was running before the wind on a southeast course. “Permission to report, my lord!” Soames shouted. “Come on down,” Granger replied through his speaking trumpet. Soames grabbed a backstay and slid down to the deck. Granger hid his annoyance that Soames landed more gracefully than he had. “Well?” “My lord, the ships of the convoy have surrounded the British ships,” Soames said. “They have formed a shield of sorts about them?” Daventry asked. “Yes, my lord,” Soames said nervously, as he talked to these exalted men. “That is not unusual, for merchant vessels to assist each other, my lord,” Schein added. “That will not discommode the privateer unduly,” Weston noted. “She will just force her way past them.” “But it will accomplish two things that may be helpful to us,” Granger said. “It will distract the Frenchman, so maybe she won’t see us heading down the channel, and it will delay her and give us time.” “What will you do?” Daventry asked. “I will remain under topsails, just as we are, so we are less conspicuous, until she sights us, then we will pour on sail and hope we can catch her,” Granger said. In these seas and winds Valiant could not hope to outrun that French ship. They would have to draw the privateer in or she would merely turn about and sail away from them. “While we are approaching the convoy, see if the cook can put together a quick breakfast for our lads.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. “I’ll be aloft,” Granger announced. He climbed back to the maintop with Soames, pausing to glance down at the Valiant. She looked like a beehive of activity as her crew tried to dine in a speedy manner. “That Frog is getting awful close to the convoy, my lord,” Soames noted. “She is,” Granger agreed, but was nervous, because she was still too far away for Granger to catch her. The smell of food wafted up to Granger. “Soames, go eat.” “I wouldn’t want to leave you alone, my lord,” Soames said thoughtfully. Granger glared at him, since Soames knew better than to question orders. “Aye aye, my lord,” he said, and obeyed Granger’s order immediately. Granger sat up there by himself, enjoying the solitude, as he watched the Frenchman catch up to the convoy. He’d thought about lowering their flag and any other bunting that would prove that Valiant was a British ship, but there were very few razees in the world, and the only ones in operation were Royal Navy ships. Valiant’s strange evolution to a frigate damned her to be unique and thus easily identified for what she was. The Frenchman encountered an American ship between her and an English merchantman, but the American was so good at blocking, the Frenchman put a cannonball into her hull to persuade her to get out of the way. That was a good enough incentive for the Yankee, who swung out of the way, exposing the British ship to the privateer. Then disaster, at least as Granger saw it, struck. The lead ship of the convoy spotted Valiant and signaled to her consorts, and that in turn must have awakened the French ship’s lookouts. She luffed, and prepared to wear ship to escape. “Mr. Weston!” Granger hailed. “I’ll have the courses and topgallants on her!” “Aye aye, my lord,” he replied. Whistles blew, and men rushed up the masts to the yards. Those on the main yard smiled at him as they headed out to the ends of the yard to loose the gaskets that held the sails in place. The French ship had just completed her turn to put her into the wind when the American ship she’d holed decided to tack, and rammed right into her. Granger smiled, and almost laughed, as he watched the irate Frenchmen waving their fists and yelling at the American ship. Soames chose that time to return, so Granger pointed out what had happened, and then returned back to the quarterdeck. “An American ship has done our work for us,” Granger said. “She has indeed, my lord,” Weston agreed. Valiant heeled over with her increased sail, tearing down toward the privateer. She came up to the convoy, and the ships wisely formed two organized columns to the larboard and starboard sides, all but clearing a path straight toward the privateer. “You can reduce us down to topsails, Mr. Weston,” Granger said. The Frenchman was just now disentangling herself from the merchant vessel. She frantically tried to trim her sails and get enough speed to escape, but she was already in range. Her fate was already sealed, even if she didn’t know it. “My lord, those Danes are coming down channel,” the mizzen lookout hailed. “They will not arrive in time to save their French comrades,” Granger said. “Mr. Grenfell, a ball across her bow.” “Aye aye, my lord,” he responded. He went forward to personally supervise their long 9-pounder in the bow, the most accurate long gun in the Navy. It only took a few minutes for the gun to fire, and they saw the ball fly through the air and land easily across her bow. “They don’t seem to be too worried, my lord,” Weston said. “They should be,” Granger said. Valiant gained quickly on the privateer even as she struggled to pick up speed. He paused to doff his hat to the merchant ship who had made the capture of this ship a possibility, then focused on the Frenchman. “Mr. Grenfell, run out your larboard battery.” “Aye aye, my lord,” he said. Valiant rumbled and shook as her guns were run out, but the foolish privateer was still not daunted. “Mr. Weston, we’ll yaw to starboard so the guns will bear,” Granger ordered. “Make that happen.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. He began to maneuver Valiant to the right. Granger waited until the privateer was perpendicular to Valiant then gave the order: “Fire!” As soon as the guns had fired, Weston adeptly put her back on her original course. The smoke billowed about them briefly, but as the wind blew it away, it exposed the French ship. She’d been a beautiful vessel, but that one broadside had shattered her. She had lost her foremast, and it was possible to see the huge holes that had been punctured in her side. Still the tricolor flag flew jauntily from her mizzen. Granger assumed that was merely because she hadn’t had a chance to lower it, and he was prepared to cease firing, until two of her guns fired. One of the balls punched a hole in their fore topsail. “Yaw again, Mr. Weston,” Granger ordered. “Mr. Grenfell, fire as your guns bear!” Valiant turned and this time, her gunners took their time and fired more deliberately. Granger watched as the massive 24- and 42-pound balls slammed into the pretty little ship. He cringed as he thought about how many men would be killed or wounded, since privateers usually carried large crews to give them the extra hands to man their prizes. They were almost up to her now, and that compelled the Frenchman in charge to finally lower their flag. “The Frog’s surrendered, my lord,” the lookout shouted unnecessarily. “Mr. Weston, take a party and board the privateer. Make sure to take a large squad of marines with you,” Granger ordered. “Aye aye, my lord,” he said, and began to organize a party of men, even as they lowered the longboat. Granger hove the ship to when they were half a cable’s length away from the shattered ship, and then watched carefully as Weston’s boat pushed off and headed toward the French ship. “She looks to be in a bad way, my lord,” Meurice noted, and indeed he was right. He’d first been focused on capturing her, but now that he took stock of the situation, it seemed as if their prize was on the verge of sinking. “Let’s get the launch and my gig swung out and manned,” Granger ordered. “Aye aye, my lord,” Grenfell said. He was a very efficient officer. With Weston’s departure, he’d seamlessly stepped right into his shoes and taken over the first lieutenant’s role. “My lord,” Weston’s voice hailed him from across the water. “This ship is sinking.” “She cannot be saved?” Granger asked. “No, my lord,” Weston responded. Weston was a good seaman, so he would be able to assess the privateer’s viability as well as he could. “There are a lot of wounded men here.” “My lord,” Grenfell said, distracting him. “The Danish ships should be up to us within a quarter of an hour.” He looked at the Danish ships and they were heading toward them under full sail. “I doubt they’ll be in a better mood this time,” Daventry noted. “I fear you are correct,” Granger said. “Mr. Weston, I need you and your men back here at once. We’ll return to help the Frenchmen in a bit.” There was a pause, as Weston struggled to wrap his mind around Granger’s order, and how he was being compelled to leave this ship he’d just been given responsibility for. In the end, though, there was only one response, and Weston uttered it. “Aye aye, my lord.” “Mr. Grenfell, leave the other boats in the water, but bring the men back aboard,” Granger ordered. “We’ll tow them astern for the time being.” “Aye aye, my lord,” he said, and went to attend to that. Granger waited anxiously as Weston and his boarding party cast off and headed back to Valiant, as he wanted to have his entire crew here to face the Danes. “Will they attack us?” Daventry asked Granger. “Not yet,” Granger said, “The frigate is in the lead, and she would not be in that position if they were going to start firing.” Weston hauled himself aboard, followed by his crew, who diligently returned to their stations. “That ship is the Juin, sailing from Dunkerque, my lord. She was holed badly below the waterline,” Weston said. “I told them to man the pumps, but there is little chance they’ll be able to keep up with the flooding.” Granger looked over to the French ship and could see the water cascading out of her, courtesy of her pumps. “How many wounded?” “My lord, it was like bedlam,” Weston said, shaking his head. “They had no business fighting. They had 200 men aboard, and half of them are dead or will be shortly.” “That is unfortunate,” Granger said, shaking his head at the idiocy of her captain who had not immediately surrendered. “Of the remaining 100, 50 are badly wounded. She probably has only 30 fully fit men left at this point, my lord,” Weston said. “Well, we cannot help her until we deal with our Danish friends,” Granger said, gesturing at the two Danish ships that closed in on them. They hove to, the frigate off Valiant’s larboard stern and the Holsteen off her larboard bow. “Allow us to drift forward,” he said to the helm, which would move Valiant forward enough to cross the Holsteen’s bow. “They’re sending another boat, my lord,” a lookout called. Granger saw Willemoes in the boat, along with an officer who was probably his senior. “They’re sending us a post-captain this time, sir,” Kingsdale said with a smile. “We are evidently now in bigger trouble,” Granger joked back, getting a chuckle from the officers within earshot. Weston hurried to assemble the sideboys and bosun’s mates to properly welcome the Danish captain aboard. He was an older man, but still managed to haul himself up on his own without the need for a bosun’s chair. His entire expression and posture was one of a man who was enraged. Willemoes followed immediately behind him and introduced Granger to the captain of the Holsteen. Arenfelt had no use for such niceties, and began all but shouting at Granger. “Captain Arenfelt has come here to express his outrage that you would attack a ship in His Danish Majesty’s waters, especially after you were expressly forbidden from traversing them,” Willemoes said. “Please explain to Captain Arenfelt that we intercepted the French privateer Juin as she was attempting to seize a British merchant vessel,” Granger responded. “If he wishes to express outrage, he should address it to the French who would allow their privateers to prey on British ships in His Danish Majesty’s waters.” This was interpreted to Arenfelt, who blustered some more. “That does not excuse your seizure of that vessel, my lord,” Willemoes said. Granger had a feeling the young Danish lieutenant was significantly editing the comments his chief was making, based on how long it took Arenfelt to articulate points that Willemoes clipped down to a simple sentence. “In fact, it does,” Granger said. “His Britannic Majesty’s warships are well within their rights to protect and defend His Britannic Majesty’s merchant ships from attack and seizure in any waters. Further, His Britannic Majesty has the right to expect that when those merchant ships are peacefully engaged in trade in His Danish Majesty’s waters, His Danish Majesty’s ships should work to ensure they are not attacked or seized by other ships. Please point out to Captain Arenfelt that I was doing the job he was supposed to be doing, since he had failed in accomplishing his duty.” Willemoes swallowed hard before interpreting that. It was amusing to watch Arenfelt’s eyes bulge larger and larger as Granger’s words were explained to him. It seemed as if he must surely explode, but instead, he stood there, fuming for a few seconds, then became remarkably calm. He muttered something to Willemoes, who seemed surprised, the turned to Granger. “Captain Arenfelt suggests that the best resolution to this issue is for you to leave His Danish Majesty’s waters as soon as possible, and that you leave behind this French ship.” Granger glanced over at the French ship, which was already substantially lower in the water. “That is acceptable,” he said. “As soon as you have left our ship, we will re-stow our boats and continue on our voyage.” They both bowed, although Arenfelt’s gesture was perfunctory at best, and went over the side. “Mr. Weston, please get us on a course south-southeast, then I will thank you to retrieve the boats.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. Valiant came into the wind smoothly as she spread her mains and topgallants, leaving the Danes and the Frenchman behind. “We seem to have lost another prize,” Daventry joked. “I fear Admiral Dickson will be even more vexed with you.” “I think the Danes think they have acquired something of value,” Granger said, gesturing to where boats from the two Danish ships hurried toward the French privateer. “It is possible they could salvage her, isn’t it?” Daventry asked. “It is possible, but I cannot see where they would benefit from the effort,” Granger responded. “They will also have to handle quite a few wounded Frenchmen, and I am quite sure they did not plan on that.” “Well, it is a most auspicious beginning to our voyage, but we certainly aren’t making any friends,” Daventry quipped. “I did not think any of these people were pre-disposed to be our friends anyway,” Granger observed. His stomach grumbled, reminding him that he had not yet had breakfast and it was past dinner time. “Pass the word for Winkler!” It took almost no time for Winkler to appear. “You sent for me, my lord?” “I am almost starving now that I am in your care again,” Granger said, but less pleasantly than normal, because he was indeed quite hungry. “And as with most things, my lord, I have anticipated your wishes,” he said in that slightly insubordinate way that only he could get away with. “Since your cabin is not yet restored, we are setting up a table on the poop deck for you to dine.” Granger looked beyond him to see Jacobs and another man lugging up a table and two chairs, clearly including Daventry in their equation. “I will make allowances for the fact that we all but sank a Frenchman.” “I am most obliged, my lord,” Winkler said, even as he went to bring Granger’s food up to him. “Mr. Weston, you may return the ship to her normal state and pipe the hands to dinner,” Granger ordered. “Lord Daventry, would you care to join me?” “It would be my pleasure,” he said, and followed Granger up to the poop deck. “I think we should enjoy this weather, as it most definitely will not last,” Granger said, appreciating the warm breeze that blew past them. “I daresay you’re right,” he said, as he took his seat, then resumed their previous conversation. “I am not concerned about making friends with these Northern Countries, but I have taken Cavendish’s words to heart, and I would note that they mirrored what I had heard in England before we left, and that is that Sweden is most likely to be friendly to us.” “I would imagine that all four of these allied powers - Russia, Denmark, Sweden, and Prussia – will be eying each other with considerable suspicion and distrust,” Granger said. “Any overt help the Swedes or Prussians give us would infuriate the Russians or Danes.” “My information suggests that it is a bit more focused than that,” Daventry said. “Russia is the giant in the room, as it were, and has an oversized influence on her neighbors. So even if the other three disagree, they will still make an effort to go along with her.” “You make her seem much like the school bully,” Granger said. “An apt description,” Daventry confirmed.
  4. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 11

    Me too. I thought I'd solved that problem. Hopefully now it's fixed.
  5. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 61

    I'm more inclined to bitch slap JJ. Carullo has a lot of baggage from 9-11, and JJ knows it. I agree with your take on Dillon. 🙂
  6. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 61

    September 14, 2003 Escorial, CA Will We’d been hanging out in the pool area with Gathan, Klip, and the other hockey players. It seemed like when you got a group together, at least one person would get wasted and make an ass out of themselves, but tonight was like the big exception. Everyone got pleasantly buzzed and seemed fine stopping there. I decided that part of that was because they were in this veritable palace and were on their best behavior, and the other reason was because they had their first practice tomorrow. We’d horsed around in the pool, played Marco Polo, volleyball, and done other stupid shit. That was fun, but probably wouldn’t have been worth staying up for if I wouldn’t have gotten to see Dillon in a bathing suit. He had a really nice body, one that was fit but normal. He wasn’t ripped like some guys - he wasn’t super-muscular like Zach - and he wasn’t like some big huggable cushion like Robbie had been. At the same time, he was. He had good muscle tone that bulged out in sexy places, like his pecs and his biceps, while the rest of the time it was largely hidden by his smooth skin. He had just enough padding to hide his abs, but not so much that he looked beefy. After a while, everyone had gotten tired of the pool, so now we were sitting around on the patio in the pool area. We were all drinking, but no one had smoked cigarettes or weed, since smoking wasn’t allowed indoors. I didn’t know if Dillon did either one of those things. I listened as the conversation veered off to hockey, and more specifically, their hockey team, and while I loved to watch them play, I got bored hearing them talk about it. I looked at Dillon just as he yawned, and that made me chuckle. The more I got to know him, the cuter he was. “I’m going to bed,” I said, as I stood up. “You guys have a good time.” “Happy Birthday,” Gathan said again, and gave me a hug. “One of the best ones I’ve had,” I said, because I’d had such a good time with all of them, especially Dillon. Klip gave me a hug too, and I shook hands with the rest of the guys. “I’m going to crash too,” Dillon said. I left the pool area and paused to wait for him. He walked out, closing the door behind him, and when he saw me, he smiled big. “This time you were waiting for me.” “Busted,” I said, chuckling. “You got enough energy to see a few important things?” “Sure,” he said. “I was just getting bored listening to them talk about how good they were on the ice.” “You’re lucky Matt isn’t here anymore,” I said, since he was a pretty big grandstander. I had to stop and explain who Matt and Wade were, even as I led him through the tunnel to the gym. “Dude, this is un-fucking-believable,” he said, as he took in the tunnel and then the gym. “Real estate is really expensive in the Bay Area, so Grand built this annex so our staff members would have a place to stay,” I explained. “He linked the two buildings with the tunnel, and put this gym in at the same time.” “This is the bomb,” he said, even as he sat on one of the machines and started doing curls, bulging his biceps out in an incredibly sexy way. “Keeps me in shape,” I said, which was true, even though that wasn’t the only thing I did to stay fit. “There’s a sauna and a steam room too.” His eyes bulged as I showed him how they worked. “Want to steam?” “Sure,” he said. We went into the shower area to rinse off, and that earned me my first look at Dillon’s body. He had such a cute little ass, and a nice dick, at least when it was limp, but the hottest thing about him was his pubic hair, which was more red than blond, and looked like a beautiful golden halo around his dick. I looked down, horrified, to see that I was well on my way to getting hard, so I hurriedly grabbed a towel and wrapped it around my waist. He followed me into the steam room with a knowing smirk, but at least the heat and the steam hid my red face. I was kind of wondering if he’d sit on the top shelf so I could peek back and perve on him, but instead he sat next to me on the middle shelf. “This is awesome.” We didn’t say anything while the steam sprayed out, we just relaxed and enjoyed the heat and the moisture. When it stopped, that seemed like a good time to start up a conversation. “A good way to unwind after a workout, or before I go to bed if I’m stressed out,” I told him. “That why you’re in here now? You stressed?” “Not even,” I said. “I just thought this would be a fun thing to show you.” “I love it,” he said. We stayed in there until we got hot, then got out and headed to the showers. “You can grab your suit and shower in my room if you want to,” I offered, since that’s what I was going to do. “You sure?” he asked, worried that he was imposing. “Yeah,” I said, making is sound like ‘of course’. “I’ll show you how the aromatherapy shit works. That way you can use it in your own shower.” “Cool. I didn’t have time to figure that out before dinner,” he agreed. I led him back through the tunnel and down the halls, chuckling at how nervous he was strolling through this virtual palace wearing nothing but a towel. “I had a really nice time this evening. Thanks for making me feel so at home. I was kind of freaked out about coming here after Klip talked about how awesome it was,” he said. “Yeah, that happens,” I said, acknowledging that Escorial was a pretty impressive place. “I’m glad you got used to it. You’ll enjoy being here more that way.” “Sure is different than my house,” he said. “What’s home like?” I asked. I had never asked Klip about his family, not that we had a chance to have that many conversations anyway. “My dad works at the University of Oregon in their finance office, and my mom’s a Realtor,” he explained. “I mean, we have a nice enough house, and all three of us have our own rooms, but it’s not like this.” “Sounds cool,” since it sounded pretty normal. “What are your parents like?” “My mom is this outgoing person, which you probably would have guessed since she’s in real estate. She does pretty well at it. My dad is just the opposite. He’s all quiet and reserved,” he said. “I’ve got another brother, Liam, who’s in between Klip and me in age.” “What’s he do?” I asked. “He goes to school at Oregon State,” he said. “He’s majoring in biology.” “Sounds like fun,” I said with a grimace to show him that it didn’t sound like fun at all. “No shit,” he agreed. “What about you? What are you going to major in?” I asked. He shrugged. “Don’t know. I’m only going to college because my parents are making me go.” “Really?” I asked, totally stunned. “Not going to college was never an option for me.” He shrugged. “Klip got looks and brains, Liam got brains, and I got looks.” “Yes you did,” I said, smiling at him. He gave me a cocky look, since he knew he was hot. “So are you a total slacker?” I asked, expecting him to deny it. “Pretty much,” he said. “Got in lots of trouble in high school for skipping class.” “What did you do when you skipped?” I asked. “Usually went surfing,” he said. “You probably don’t do that.” “I skip school a lot, but I keep up with my work, so it’s not a big deal,” I said. I opened my door and gestured for him to follow me inside. “This is home.” “Nice digs,” he said. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing at my rug. “That’s a fake bearskin rug. Stef put one in my room in Malibu, and I liked it so much he got me another one for this room,” I explained. “You have a big fucking room,” he said, as he checked it out. “When I moved up here, Stef and Grand gave me one of the bigger rooms,” I said. “My uncle used to use it, but he moved out.” “Where’d he go?” “Italy,” I said, even though Ace spent a lot of time in Almaden as well. “Here’s the bathroom.” “Dude, this is incredible,” he said, even as he looked around. It was a lot bigger than the guest bathrooms here at Escorial. “Makes getting up in the morning a little easier,” I joked. I flipped a switch to turn on the heated floors and explained what they were. “So warm,” he said, drawing attention to his feet. Even his feet were cute. “Here, I’ll show you how the shower works,” I said, leading him through the glass door. “You go first,” he insisted. I made to argue with him, but then changed my mind and decided to take a risk. “It’s big enough for both of us, if you don’t mind,” I suggested. He shrugged. “Fire it up.” I turned on the water, getting it warm, then shucked off my towel, while he did the same thing. I had to try hard not to look at his body. “What fragrance do you want?” I asked. “You pick,” he said. I chose eucalyptus because it seemed non-threatening. I shampooed my hair, using that as an excuse to close my eyes and not stare at him. It was probably not possible for me to finish this shower with him without having a raging hard on. I was kind of worried about that, but he’d been giving off some pretty big signs that he was interested in me. I guess this was the time to find out if he was. I rinsed out my hair and opened my eyes, then turned to look at him as he finished lathering up his own hair. He stood under the water, leaning slightly forward to let the water run off his head over his face, which gave me an amazing view of his cute little ass. He turned around; his eyes closed, and leaned his head back to wash the shampoo off his head and down his back. I stood there frozen, watching him, because he was a vision of beauty. I’d seen pretty much all of him before this, but his dick was hard, and it was really nice. I guessed it was about seven inches but on the thicker side. It actually reminded me a lot of Tony’s dick, at least as far as size went. Only Tony had these veins on his dick that made it seem kind of like an inflamed monster, while Dillon’s cock was smooth and sleek, with almost no variation to its straight form. I was conscious that his eyes were on me, and I felt myself blushing before I even looked up at him. I was so busted, there was no way I was going to be able to bullshit my way out of this one. “Like what you see?” he asked, with a shit-eating grin. I glanced down at my own dick, which was hard as a rock. “Obviously,” I said, smiling at him. “Dude, you’re fucking hung like a horse,” he said. “You’re not exactly small,” I said. I moved closer to him, wondering if he’d pull away from me, only if anything, he moved in to meet me. Then our lips met, tentatively at first, then more intensely, as the passion built up at an incredibly fast pace. I felt his hand on my dick, even as I grabbed his, and it was one of the weirder sensations I’d experienced. It was like our lips were dancing together in such an awesome way that the other activity, like us stroking each other’s cock, was almost a sideshow. And then the sideshow took over as I felt my orgasm rising, then exploding all over his hand, even as I panted into his mouth. After I was done, I spun him around, lodging my still-hard cock in his crack, and jacked him off while I nuzzled his neck. He came in almost no time at all, making these incredibly sexy whimpering noises. When we were done, we looked at each other a bit sheepishly, finished rinsing off, and grabbed clean towels, all without saying anything. “I should probably let you get to sleep,” he said. I hadn’t really expected weirdness from him after sex, but I was used to that with other guys I’d been with, so I knew how to handle it. “Stay,” I ordered. “At least for a while.” I decided the bed may be a bit too forward, so I led him over to the bearskin rug, flipped on the fire, and we lay down on the fake piece of animal skin on our sides, just looking at each other. “That was fun,” he said, smiling nervously. “Dude, that was awesome,” I said enthusiastically. “Klip told me you were a lot of fun,” he admitted. “How does he know?” I asked. “I haven’t fucked him.” He laughed at that. “Good luck with that. He’s straight as an arrow.” I wasn’t sure that was true, since I was pretty sure Klip had hooked up with Wade, but I didn’t say anything about that. “I’d rather have you,” I said honestly. I leaned in and kissed him again. “I’m glad,” he said. “So how’d you get your black eye?” I asked. It was the first time I’d said anything about it, but all the other guys had given him shit about it. “Got into a fight,” he said, which was the same response he’d given everyone else. “I figured that out, especially since that’s what you told everyone else,” I said. I just stared at him, challenging him to take the chance and tell me the story. “You done much with other guys?” he asked. I blinked in confusion, because that wasn’t related to our prior conversation at all. “Yeah,” I said. “I’ve known I was gay since I was pretty young, and in this family, that’s not a big deal.” “Makes sense,” he said, chuckling. “I think being out, so people know I’m into guys, made it easier for me to hook up with people,” I explained. “They pretty much knew I’d be up for playing around if they wanted to take a walk on the wild side.” “I can see that,” he said, mulling that over. “I guess it’s like having a sign out in front of your business.” “You make me sound like a whore,” I joked. “Dude, you don’t need money, so I wouldn’t have suspected that at all,” he joked. “What about you?” “I had a girlfriend and a boyfriend,” he said sadly. “Dude, you’ve got all the bases covered,” I joked. “I had,” he said, emphasizing the past tense. “The guy I messed around with was my best friend, only he blew me off when he went away to school.” “I’m sorry,” I said sympathetically. “That’s tough to deal with.” “No shit,” he agreed. “My girlfriend found out about us, and that’s how I got this,” he said, pointing at his black eye. “She hit you?” I asked, stunned. “No, her brother did,” he said. “He’s pretty huge. I was lucky he did it when I had a bunch of friends around who could pull him off me.” September 15, 2003 Tribeca, NY JJ “Hey there,” Carullo said pleasantly as he walked into the kitchen. “Good morning,” I said evenly. We’d both escaped back to our rooms on Saturday night after dinner, and then he’d vanished on Sunday. I gave myself props for not acting totally irritated with him, even though I was. “I went to New Jersey to see my mom yesterday,” he told me. “I’m sure she enjoyed seeing you,” I said. What I wanted to do was rip him up and down for creating this bullshit situation with me and Luka, and then running away and hiding to avoid the problem. “You probably won’t see much of me this week.” “Why?” he asked, and looked concerned, which would have been sweet if I thought he’d actually miss me if I weren’t around. “It’s fashion week, and that’s a big deal,” I said. His oblique look was almost enough to exhaust my patience with him. How could he possibly not know how important this was? Did he live in a hole somewhere? “They have these big events twice a year. This kicks off the Spring fashion shows.” “Kicks them off? What happens after this?” “They have a show in London, Milan, and then Paris. Paris is always last. New York and Paris are usually the best,” I asserted. “Are you going to all of them?” I shrugged. “I don’t think I’ll make all of them, but I’ll probably get to Paris. I talked to Stef about going, and he seemed pretty excited about it, so maybe he’ll go with me.” “You guys would probably have a blast there,” he said, trying to be nice and upbeat. “I gotta go. Don’t wanna be late to work.” “Have a good day,” I said. He looked at me briefly, like he wanted to say something, then he hurried out the door, running away from me yet again. I rolled my eyes at his idiocy. I was up early, at least for me, because I had to go to school this morning. I’d gotten approval to be out this week for the fashion show, but evidently it was absolutely vital that I appear this morning and turn in the report I’d been up last night working on. These people clearly had no sense of priorities, but I went along with their stupid rules, just like I’d done with the Figure Skating Association. So I went to school, got that done, and was just about to leave when I ran into Mary-Kate Olsen. “JJ!” she said in her enthusiastic way and gave me a big hug. I didn’t really have all that many friends here in New York, or at least not many that were my age, but Mary-Kate and her sister Ashley were two of the few people I spent time with. “MK!” I said back, mimicking her tone. “Why aren’t you at the park?” She and her sister were into the fashion scene, so I’d expected them to be at Bryant Park, where the show was being held. “Had to meet with one of my former teachers,” she said. “I needed some advice for this movie we’re working on.” “You’re doing a movie?” I asked, even though I probably should have known about it. “New York Minute,” she said casually. “Is that one of those cheesy twin movies you guys make?” I asked, giving her shit. “That’s exactly what it is,” she said. “Pays the bills.” “Let’s hope,” I joked. “So why are you here, and not already at the show?” she asked. “I had to turn some shit in,” I said grumpily. “Ashley’s already there,” she said, then pretended to pout. “Didn’t even wait for me.” “Bitch,” I joked. “You need a ride?” “Beats taking a cab,” she said, agreeing. “Or the subway,” I said, making both of us grimace. I led her up to the Maybach, where the driver was there to open the door for her. “You travel in style,” she said, enjoying the beautiful car that was my personal cocoon here in New York. “I do everything with style,” I joked, sort of. “You do, you certainly do,” she agreed, which was sweet and validating. “Want to see what we’re working on?” “Sure,” I said, which was unnecessary since she was already pulling out a folder with some sketches. “Here’s our new line,” she said, showing me some drawings. “Peasant blouses,” I mused. “It’s not high fashion, but it’s supposed to be more affordable,” she said, being slightly defensive. “Makes sense,” I said. “You think this Bohemian look is going to be the next thing?” “I do,” she confirmed, “at least for the newer, hipper people. We’re thinking of younger people who live in the cities or ’burbs.” I looked at the sketches carefully, which seemed to make her nervous, but after a bit, she seemed to get that I was just thinking about things. “I think your colors are too bright.” “You don’t like the contrast between the peasant look and the bright cheerful colors?” she asked, also explaining their rationale. “I’m not a big fan of the peasant look,” I said with a grin, joking about my own snobby wardrobe and getting a chuckle from her. “Seriously though, I’m just not sure if the bright look will appeal to the people you want to sell these to.” “You don’t think they would appreciate some joyful color in their clothes to go with the peasant?” She was almost implying that the bright colors would make people happy about their shitty lives. I internally rolled my eyes. And people thought I was a snob. “Look out the window,” I said, gesturing at the people, the common masses. “See many bright colors?” We looked out at them, and dark colors were overwhelmingly predominant. “So you think we should change everything to black and grey?” she asked, frustrated. “No,” I said patiently. “I’m not trying to criticize your idea, which seems pretty good overall.” “I get that,” she relented. “I mean, I did show you these, which means I’m basically asking for your feedback.” “Then I’ll give it to you. I think you should consider muting the tones. For example, this purple could work if it was a shade lighter, or what may even work better is to go darker and then fade it out.” “Fading,” she mused. “That’s a pretty interesting idea.” “I’m not exactly the expert on your target market,” I joked. “I’m not a former Disney princess.” “No, you’re a former ice prince,” she said. “That’s just as bad.” “Probably,” I grumbled. We got to Bryant Park, where things were pretty much organized chaos, and after that I was just absorbed into the flow of the show. I went to a bunch of shows, a dinner party, and then finally I was able to drag my tired ass back to the condo. I looked at my watch while I was in the elevator and noted that it was almost midnight. I sighed, thinking that the next few nights would probably run even later. The condo was dark beyond the entry light, so when I peeked down the hall and noticed that Carullo’s door was open and his light was on, it cast a bright spotlight onto the otherwise darkened corridor. It sounded like he was doing something in there, like moving stuff around, but I ignored that and went into my bedroom and put all my shit down. I’d started out with my satchel bag, and then accumulated a bunch of gift bags throughout the day, so it was a relief to shed myself of all that crap. I thought about going to bed, but I was too curious about Carullo’s activity to not at least see what was going on. I walked out of my room and down the hallway and peered into his room. He was wearing gym shorts and a tank top, both of which looked incredibly tacky after all the cool clothes I’d seen today, but also looked incredibly sexy on him. He was busy putting things into boxes. “Hey,” I said. “You’re back!” he said. He came over and gave me a friendly kiss and a hug. “Long day?” “You have no idea,” I complained. “Probably going to be like this all week.” “Bummer,” he said. “Good thing you like it.” “Good thing,” I agreed. “What are you doing?” “I, uh, I got transferred,” he said nervously. “Transferred?” I didn’t even know that was an option. “Yeah,” he said sheepishly. “Our whole group is moving up to the headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.” “Where’s that?” Connecticut was close. Shit, people commuted from there into the city every day. “It’s a little over 100 miles away, near Hartford,” he said. “Can’t really commute there from here. Trains don’t go there, and traffic is a bitch.” I could see his point on that. “When did you find out about this?” I asked. “There was a rumor a couple of weeks ago, but they confirmed it today,” he said. “They told you today you have to move, and you have to pack up that fast?” I asked, thinking that was a little insane. “No, we’re going to be going up there in about a month,” he said. “They’re going to bus us up there starting in a couple of weeks, then after a month we’re supposed to be in Bristol.” “You’re so anxious to leave that you’re already packing?” I asked him, letting him see how annoyed I was. He knew me well enough to know that the annoyance hid how upset I was. “No, but I was waiting up for you, and I decided to do something constructive,” he said. “You were waiting up to tell me about this,” I concluded, more to work that through in my mind. “Yeah, to tell you that, and to, uh…” he said, and then seemed to lose his resolve. “Never mind.” “What?” I demanded, unwilling to put up with him dicking me around by leaving me in suspense. I briefly compared myself to my father, who hated secrets, and wondered if I was becoming more like him. That made my bad mood even worse. “I wanted to ask you a favor,” he said, and stared at me boldly as he did. It was all I could do to restrain myself from offering an incredibly caustic and snarky reply, but if I did that, he’d just shut down on me, and I was too curious about what he wanted to let that happen. “What do you need?” I asked calmly and evenly. “I talked to Luka today,” he said. “How is he doing?” I asked, pretending that I gave a shit. “He’s pissed off at me, probably as bad as you are,” he grumbled. “Maybe,” I said, but smiled slightly to make it a joke. “You saw him at his job. He’s a waiter. But he’s also really into the fashion scene,” he said. “I didn’t run into him today,” I said. Luka was a really handsome guy. I would have recognized him. “No, but you probably will,” he said. “He’s supposed to be showing some of his designs.” I had no idea he was a designer, but then again, half the city seemed to think they were either in the fashion industry or show business. The fact that he was going to get the opportunity to show off his stuff was different, because if he totally sucked he wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity. “When?” I asked curiously. “I’m not sure,” he said. “So I know you’re mad at me, but I want to ask you not to take it out on him.” “You care about him that much?” I asked him acidly. “He’s a friend, like I said,” he replied. “So yeah, I care about him, and I want him to do well, and I don’t want my bullshit to piss you off enough to slaughter his career.” “You think I’m that petty?” I demanded, acting all outraged, when I was, in fact, that petty. “No, but I didn’t want you to be surprised, and I knew if I gave you some time to think about it, you’d treat him fairly,” he said, which was just so much wishful thinking. “If anything, I should feel sorry for him for getting his emotions played with, just like you played with mine,” I snapped. “You should,” he said sadly. “If his stuff sucks, I’m not holding back,” I said firmly, “but I won’t go out of my way to sabotage him.” “What if it’s good?” he asked hopefully. “Then I’ll say it’s good,” I said. “Look, I put up with a lot of shit in the skating world, getting crap scores when I should have done better, and I also saw that happen to a lot of other talented people. I’m not going to shoot someone down unless I hate them, and I don’t hate Luka.” He nodded. “Thanks.” I grimaced at how much he was annoying me, then stormed off to the solitude of my room, where I cried yet again over someone I’d been into who had totally blown me off.
  7. Mark Arbour

    Black Widow

    This story starts in June of 2003. The invasion of Iraq is over, George Bush has landed on the aircraft carrier and proclaimed "Mission Accomplished", and the insurgency has yet to begin. Some may think America is at the height of its power. Meanwhile, in the CAP world: JJ and Will, both in doomed relationships that seem to be working. Will they unravel, and if they do, who is behind it?
  8. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 14

    August 1800 His Britannic Majesty’s Embassy Copenhagen, Denmark Granger sat in the dining room, preparing to have breakfast with Lords Whitworth, Daventry, and Cavendish. A servant arrived and put food in front of them. Granger frowned at the plate, since he did not like to eat fish for breakfast, and it was clearly a fish that was on the plate. As soon as the servant left, Whitworth launched into him. “You met with the Crown Prince before you met with me?” he demanded. “I was invited to call on His Royal Highness,” Granger said evenly. “I received a communique from you telling me it was advisable that I do so.” “I expected you to contact me first,” Whitworth blustered. Granger glanced at Cavendish and saw him trying not to grin at Whitworth’s idiocy. “I had assumed that you would also be at the supper I was asked to attend,” Granger said. “Perhaps you were not charming enough to get invited.” “Don’t be impertinent,” Whitworth snapped. “Then do not patronize me, and question my actions, which have not been shown to be in error,” Granger said back just as abruptly. “Lord Whitworth is worried that you will make a worse hash of things than he already has,” Cavendish said. “That is offensive!” Whitworth all but shouted. “You have negotiated a treaty that is clearly in Denmark’s favor, giving them time to firm up their alliance with Russia and receive support from both the Tsar and from Stockholm,” Cavendish responded. “I have done no such thing,” Whitworth objected. “I have brought peace to this situation by stalling the preparations for war.” “As it is almost winter, those preparations would have been stalled anyway,” Daventry said. “The Danes have agreed to suspend convoys until after later negotiations,” Cavendish said. “And that is quite the coup,” Whitworth said, full of himself over what he considered to be quite the success. “It lets us put off negotiations indefinitely.” “It does not,” Cavendish said, shaking his head at Whitworth. “As soon as the Russians give Bernstorff sureties that they will back up Denmark, Denmark will demand that negotiations be renewed.” “That is not what the agreement says, and that is not what they will do,” Whitworth asserted. “In fact, that is exactly what your agreement says,” Cavendish said. “It is quite clear that Denmark has only to suspend convoys until they are ready to begin negotiations again, and they will be ready to begin those talks when the Russians are firmly in their corner and committed to come to their aid.” “I thought that the Russians were already committed to aid Denmark?” Granger asked. “Tsar Paul is a most mercurial leader, and an agreement for a league of armed neutrality and actual negotiations about war and peace may be different in his mind,” Cavendish noted. Whitworth seethed at having his masterpiece, as he saw it, denounced. “That must be what the Crown Prince was referring to last night, when he told me that Lord Whitworth was short-sighted,” Granger added, just to irritate the old man. “The Crown Prince is evidently more astute than I had thought,” Cavendish said smugly, while Whitworth sat there, his face almost red with rage. “In any event, that is your affair, not ours,” Daventry said, to move them beyond this impasse. “I think it is most relevant to our issues. His Royal Highness told me that he knew I was to take you to St. Petersburg,” Granger said to Daventry. “How did he find out about that?” Daventry asked, furious now, as he looked at Whitworth. “I felt it was important for the Danes to understand that we were pursuing multiple channels to resolve this issue, so they would clearly know they may end up isolated,” Whitworth said. “You told Bernstorff I was going to St. Petersburg?” Daventry demanded, even though Whitworth had just admitted that he had. “I cannot believe you did that,” Cavendish said, and was annoyed enough to show it. “Short-sighted indeed.” “Neither can I,” Daventry said. “You betrayed confidential information to the enemy.” “That is hardly a fair way to characterize things,” Whitworth said. “In any event, with the treaty we have negotiated, your mission to St. Petersburg no longer has any purpose.” “That is not your decision, as my mission really has nothing to do with you or your efforts,” Daventry asserted strongly, then addressed Granger directly. “We will discuss this later, when there are no spies left to relay our conversation.” “You are questioning my honor?” Whitworth demanded, outraged. “I am accusing you of being a dishonest traitor,” Daventry replied. “I made no comment about your honor.” That was clearly a challenge to Whitworth, and they all waited to see if he would respond by calling Daventry out, thus demanding satisfaction. Granger thought it was quite cowardly for Whitworth to let such an insult go unanswered, but as he was not directly involved, he said nothing. A very long period of silence followed, while the four of them focused on eating breakfast. “How was your meeting with the Crown Prince?” Whitworth asked Granger in a conversational way, but Granger was so furious and disgusted with the old diplomat, he had no desire to converse with him, so instead he didn’t respond to him at all. That only added to the considerable tension in the room. “I received orders for you to return to London immediately,” Granger said to Cavendish, redirecting the conversation away from Whitworth. “I had expected that,” Cavendish said. “I will need you to remain here and assist me as we finalize these negotiations,” Whitworth said in a way that made it seem as if it was an order, and Cavendish was one of his minions. He had already exhausted Daventry’s considerable reservoir of patience, and he was now close to doing the same for both Cavendish and Granger. “Cavendish received orders to return to London immediately,” Granger said firmly. “Those orders did not allow time to help you attempt to extricate yourself from the disaster you’ve blundered into.” “Now look here…” Whitworth began to bluster, until Granger cut him off. “Cavendish went to sea on my orders, and he is being ordered back by a direct command from His Majesty, courtesy of a letter from the Earl of Leicester,” Granger stated. “Your thoughts have absolutely no bearing on this issue, and you are out of line to even voice an opinion.” “I am wondering if you would help me find a passage back to England,” Cavendish asked Granger. “I suspect that if I remain here, certain forces may plot to ensure I am stuck here.” “Well, since our mission to St. Petersburg has been foiled, you are welcome to return to London with us,” Granger said. A look at Daventry served to keep him from objecting to this proposed course of action. He wasn’t sure if Daventry was willing to abandon his mission to St. Petersburg, but even if he weren’t, it would do no harm for Whitworth to think they were returning to England. “I am looking forward to arriving back in the capital, where I will be able to fully explain to the government how my mission was foiled,” Daventry said, glowering at Whitworth. “Then I see no reason for us to delay our departure,” Granger said, as he stood up. “We will leave in a quarter of an hour.” “I will have dispatches for you to carry,” Whitworth said. “You will have a quarter of an hour to prepare them,” Granger said. “If you deliver them to me by the time we leave, I will see that they are taken home. If you are late, you will need to find a different courier.” “You have made your positions quite clear,” Whitworth said, glowering at the three of them. Granger stood up and left the room, followed by Cavendish and Daventry. “We will talk when we are safely aboard Valiant.” “That seems to be wise,” Daventry noted wryly. A quarter of an hour later, the three of them went outside and climbed into the carriage. As Whitworth wasn’t there, Granger ordered the carriage to leave. Whitworth arrived shortly after that, and the carriage stopped after a few feet, and even though it was a short distance, it still forced Whitworth to chase after them with his dispatches. “I will trust you gentlemen to get these to London as quickly as possible,” he said grumpily. “We will treat these with the same care you have taken with our mission,” Daventry said snidely. Before they could argue anymore, Granger rapped the front of the coach to urge the coachman forward, and then the three of them were alone. “I am not sure how this news affects your mission,” Granger said to Daventry. “My meeting with the Crown Prince was most interesting.” “Indeed?” Daventry asked. “He informed me that if we sailed through the Sound and into the Baltic, we could expect that any force we run into would be hostile. He assured me that he had received a pledge of support from the Russians, the Swedes, and the Prussians.” “It sounds as if he was trying his best to dissuade you from going to St. Petersburg,” Cavendish noted. “He was indeed,” Granger said, and began to ponder the Crown Prince’s words. “Do you think he was trying to intimidate us into not going to St. Petersburg because he is worried we will undermine his efforts to gain Russian support?” “I heard a rumor that the Crown Prince has only recently sent an urgent message to St. Petersburg for that purpose,” Cavendish said. “I would speculate that the solid backing he asserts he has from those other nations may not be as solid as he thinks it is.” “You do not think the Russians will back the Danes up?” Granger asked. “I think they will, but the Crown Prince makes it sound as if there are Russian ships patrolling the Baltic, waiting to apprehend any British ships they can find. I suspect they are not that organized, or committed,” Daventry observed. “Will you press on with your mission?” Granger asked Daventry. “I think I should,” he said with a certain amount of skepticism. Granger remembered their conversations, and his conclusion that Daventry was probably going to Russia to see that the Tsar was dissuaded from this League of Armed Neutrality, even if a new Tsar was required to accomplish that goal. “The Crown Prince also noted something else, something I had not accounted for,” Granger said. The other two men looked at him curiously. “The Baltic sometimes freezes over in the Sound, so it is quite possible that we will be trapped in this sea until March, or at least February.” “That certainly makes your part of our mission much more hazardous,” Daventry allowed, and seemed unusually apprehensive, presumably because he realized the trap he may be exposing Granger and his ship to. “I have never thought it would be easy,” Granger said. “It does change things a bit, though, since if we are to be isolated here, we will need to plan provisions for much longer than I had anticipated.” “Can you store enough aboard Valiant to survive until April?” Daventry asked. “We can, but we will need to add to those provisions we have aboard. We will be able to get some things from the shore, either by taking them or buying them, but some things will be more difficult to acquire,” Granger noted. “I am most anxious to acquire more fruit, especially limes or lemons, as we will need them to ward off the evils of scurvy.” “I would suspect those would be especially hard to find in the dead of winter,” Cavendish noted. “If you do this, if you go forward, I would recommend that you approach the Swedes first if you have need of assistance.” “Why?” Granger asked. “There is no love lost between the Danes and the Swedes, and the Swedes have, for a long time, had designs on Norway. They will be unreliable allies for the Danes, at best. That, and the Swedish King is known to be all but mad, and he may be inclined to befriend a man like Daventry,” Cavendish teased. “It is good to know whom one can relate to,” Daventry said with a smile. “My perception is that both Denmark and Sweden will be largely forced into doing what Russia wants them to do,” Cavendish noted. “Since Denmark is irate over the Freya affair, they are more than happy to follow the Russian lead and form this new League of Armed Neutrality.” “But the Swedes will really only do so if the Russians compel them to?” Granger asked. “That is my understanding. Their economy is too dependent on trade with us to be as belligerent as Russia or Denmark may be,” Cavendish responded. “So the Swedes are more likely to be friendly because they want us to buy their wares, and because they want to seize Norway from the Danes,” Granger said ruefully. “It appears that self-interest is their primary guide.” “And that is different from other nations in what way?” Daventry asked cynically. “I suspect that means that any assistance they give us must not be too obvious,” Granger noted, thinking of this tangled web of Baltic politics. “That would stand to reason,” Cavendish observed. “What of the Prussians?” Granger asked. “The government has tried and failed time and time again to get the Prussians to join in a coalition against France, and they have pretended to be interested, teased that they are, only to back off in the end,” Cavendish said, letting his frustration show, which was presumably the same irritation felt by the British government. “I would suggest that whether you have any luck with them is largely going to be dependent on their individual city mayors or governors.” “That will be a challenge,” Daventry noted. “It will be hard to know which harbor we can even approach.” “Stralsund is a key town, but it is part of Swedish Pomerania, and so it is Swedish,” Cavendish said. “Memel is the city that is responsible for most of the Baltic trade with Britain. I would suggest they may be the most receptive.” “That is good to know,” Granger said, logging those tidbits into his brain. The coach pulled up to the dock and stopped, but when the footman opened the door, Granger pulled it shut so they could finish their conversation. “The decision is yours, Daventry,” Granger said. “Do we go forward as planned, or back to London?” “You are willing to take me to St. Petersburg?” he asked, which was annoying to Granger in the extreme, since he’d already made that pledge. Going back on it now would smack of cowardice. Granger said nothing; he simply stared at Daventry, waiting for an answer. “We go forward.” Granger nodded and turned to Cavendish. “Then we must find you transportation back to Admiral Dickson. I would take you myself, but the Admiral and I do not have a good relationship, and I am fairly certain that the dispatches that Lord Whitworth has given you would cause him to delay us, at least.” “That would seem to make sense,” Cavendish said. “Daventry, can you ask Jacobs to find us a boat to take us out to Valiant?” Granger asked, which was his way of getting some time to talk to Cavendish alone. “Perhaps he can also inquire if there is a craft that can take Cavendish to the fleet?” “Certainly,” he said, and then exited the coach. “I received a letter from Caroline, courtesy of dispatches from Dickson. She pledged that she was ready to assist you, and that she had enlisted Arthur’s support as well,” Granger told Cavendish. “And she did this prior to the letter you were going to write her?” Cavendish mused. “She did,” Granger confirmed. “You have a place to go, and a firm base of support to back you up when you return to London.” “Thank you,” Cavendish said sincerely. “I would suggest that you may want to accidentally review the dispatches Whitworth has sent,” Granger said, gesturing at the pouch he had given to Cavendish. “Dickson would like nothing better than to create problems for me, and if delaying your return to London would cause either of us difficulties, he will see to that.” “I am not aware of any dispatches,” Cavendish said with an impish grin. “The only thing I know is that Lord Whitworth wanted Admiral Dickson to get in contact with him.” “Interestingly enough, that is all I can recall as well,” Granger said with a smirk. “Good luck.” “I think you will have more need of luck than I do,” he said. “Remember my advice about the Swedes. They are our closest allies in the Baltic.” “I will do that,” Granger said. He handed Cavendish a purse that contained a substantial number of gold coins and was quite heavy as a result. “You will need additional funds to get back to England.” “I will make sure to pay you back,” Cavendish pledged. “You will pay me back in a different way, when we next meet,” Granger said, leering at Cavendish, and making him chuckle. They exited the carriage and found their trunks being loaded into two separate boats. “My lord, we have found a lugger to take Lord Cavendish to the British fleet, and we have found a pinnace to take us to back to Valiant,” Jacobs said. “Thank you, Jacobs,” Granger said. “That was well done.” “I did not have time to write up a report on what has happened here, and how Whitworth has almost foiled my plans, so I must rely on you to communicate that to the government,” Daventry said to Cavendish, even as their baggage was being loaded into the pinnace and the lugger. “I would ask that you speak to Mr. Pitt or your father directly.” “I will convey your plans to one of them,” Cavendish said ruefully, since his father would not speak to him. “Thank you, and good luck,” Daventry said to Cavendish, as he made to board the pinnace. “I think you will need luck more than me,” Cavendish said, the same reply he’d given to Granger’s similar comment. It seemed that chance would play a large role in whether they managed to complete their mission and make it out in one piece. Granger didn’t say anything; he merely followed Daventry into the boat and nodded to the coxswain. As the pinnace bore away from the pier, he saw Cavendish boarding the lugger, and that vessel was soon underway as well. The pinnace largely retraced the same route Granger had taken yesterday, passing by the Citadel and Trekroner forts, until she approached Valiant. Granger was pleased to see several bumboats about his frigate, since that would mean that they were still able to purchase stores from the Danes. Their boat was hailed, and the correct reply was given, although any of the lookouts on Valiant would have been able to spot their captain in the pinnace, so there was certainly no surprise when the boat responded to their hail, confirming that fact. Granger hauled himself aboard and was greeted by Weston. “Welcome aboard, my lord.” “Thank you, Mr. Weston,” Granger said. “I need to see you and Mr. Andrews in my cabin at once.” “Of course, my lord,” he said. Granger headed to his domain, with Daventry, Winkler and Jacobs in tow. He had just positioned himself at his table when Weston and Andrews came in. Daventry joined them, of course. “Please be seated gentlemen,” Granger said, pouring them a glass. “Thank you, my lord,” Andrews replied. “I had a most interesting meeting with the Danish Crown Prince,” Granger said. “He informed me that it is quite possible that we could find ourselves frozen inside the Baltic until March or April.” “Frozen in, my lord?” Weston asked, “Yes,” Granger said, forcing himself to respond calmly. “There is a chance that the Sound and the other channel here, the Great Belt, will freeze during the winter. In that case, we will be unable to exit the Baltic, even if we manage to avoid the ice in the other parts of this body of water.” “Are we still going to Russia, my lord?” Andrews asked skeptically. To his cold, merchant-like mind, such a risk made the voyage largely untenable. “We are,” Granger stated. “But we must make sure we have adequate supplies in the event we are stranded in this sea.” “That should not be too difficult, my lord,” Weston said, even as he got a more skeptical look from Andrews. “It would not be unusual for us to prepare for a six-month cruise.” “I agree, Mr. Weston,” Granger said. “But we did not prepare for such a cruise when we left England, so I am concerned that we acquire those things we may not have planned for, and I am especially concerned that we acquire things that will be difficult to get in the depths of winter.” “I see your point, my lord,” Weston said. “The thing that first came to mind was having adequate lime or lemon juice,” Granger said. Scurvy was a very real danger, and one that Granger had managed to avoid during his tenure in the Navy, primarily because he was so careful to have quantities of those two fruits available. “I actually managed to buy some limes from a bumboat yesterday, my lord,” Andrews noted. “They had offered an especially good price.” “Do we have enough to last us until April?” Granger asked him. “We do not, my lord,” Andrews acknowledged. “Then we must rectify that problem at once,” he ordered. “Anything else you can think of that we may require, we must get now. Keep in mind that we should be able to find a place to get water, wood, and basic items like that.” “I would suspect that naval stores would be relatively easy to find as well, my lord, since most of them come from the Baltic,” Weston noted. “I suspect you are correct,” Granger agreed. “How long will it take you to achieve that, Mr. Andrews?” “I will hope to have that accomplished within the next day or two, provided the bumboats are still cooperative,” he said. “If they are not, we will need to find a different source.” “Then I will leave you to attempt to buy them out of items we need before the Danish authorities become suspicious and cut off our supply of goods,” Granger said. “And Mr. Andrews, time is of the essence, which means that while you should try to strike a good bargain, cost should not detract us from completing our stores.” “Of course not, my lord,” Andrews said, even as he cringed at possibly overpaying for items. “If the Danes prove too expensive, I will gladly make up the difference from my own purse,” Granger said, something Andrews would have assumed, but made him happy to hear nonetheless. “Thank you, my lord,” he said, and hurried from the cabin to begin bartering with Danish bumboats. “Mr. Weston, you and I must review our rations and supplies to make sure we have not overlooked something,” Granger stated. “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. And with that, they began to pore over the details of all the items Valiant would need for an extended stay in this frozen expanse known as the Baltic Sea. September, 1800 HMS Valiant, Copenhagen Harbor For the past two days, Valiant had remained anchored near Trekroner fort. On the first day, the local vendors had all but mobbed her, and they had taken that opportunity to gorge themselves full of whatever useful stores they could buy. It was no surprise to Andrews that the price of limes and lemons had begun to rise precipitously as soon as the local merchants realized how in demand those items were, but it couldn’t be helped. They had also bought whatever vegetables they could, and had ended up with a rather large amount of sauerkraut as a result. Granger cringed at the thought of a diet consisting primarily of fish and sauerkraut, but there was little he could do about it at this point. On the second day, they had hoped to continue to victual their ship, but there had been no bumboats around them, and no craft had approached them at all. The crew had been busy squeezing the lemons and limes into juice, which was more easily stored and preserved in that form, and they had dumped the used peels into the harbor, leaving a strange circle of the discarded parts of the fruits surrounding the ship as if it were some sort of halo. As dawn broke on the third day, Granger was not surprised to see that once again, there were no boats close to Valiant. “We are not as popular as we were a few days ago,” Daventry commented. “Indeed we are not,” Granger agreed. “The only explanation for that is that the Danish authorities have banned their merchants or citizens from having any intercourse with us at all.” “Then what will you do?” Daventry asked. “We have been able to acquire the bare minimum number of stores we will need for our voyage, so there seems no further purpose to remaining here,” Granger said. “I am just wondering how to leave such that we do not confirm to the Crown Prince that we are, in fact, going to St. Petersburg.” “I don’t think you’ll be able to do that as long as you sail into the Baltic, and since you can’t take me to St. Petersburg without sailing into the Baltic, there is nothing for it but to go ahead and hope we are faster than any courier he sends,” Daventry said logically. “Quite so,” Granger said. “Mr. Weston, I’ll have the anchor hove short.” “Aye aye, my lord,” he said. The men were called, and the band began to play some ditties to help the men as they labored at Valiant’s capstan, pulling her large cable in until she was moored directly over it. “Topsails, Mr. Weston,” Granger ordered. Those were released quite quickly, and began to draw conveniently enough just as the anchor was lifted from the bottom of the harbor. “Anchor’s aweigh, my lord,” Weston informed him. “Set a course to clear that buoy,” Granger told Weston. “Mr. Schein, I will appreciate your guidance as we take the Hollander Channel.” “Aye aye, my lord,” they both chimed. “Sail ho!” called the masthead. Granger turned his eyes away from getting his ship ready for sea and looked across the expanse of water to the Hollander Channel. There, clearly anchored to impede access to the Baltic, was a 64-gun Danish ship of the line, and next to that ship was a 36-gun frigate. “It seems as if we must pass them, my lord,” Weston noted. “We will see if they are inclined to let us go by unmolested,” Granger said. “Beat to quarters and clear for action.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. Treadway’s marines began to pound out “Hearts of Oak” as the men hurried to clear away anything non-essential for combat, while Valiant herself moved slowly across Copenhagen Harbor, heading for the entrance to the Baltic Sea.
  9. Mark Arbour

    Northern Exposure

    George Granger has been separated from his command, and how finds himself in limbo, waiting for Valiant to return. In the meantime, the Admiralty has found other things for him to do. Little does Granger know that when his ship finally does return, he'll be given an entirely different challenge, one that will take him to entirely new waters.
  10. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 13

    Ah, but back in 1800, those parts of the Baltic did freeze over. Remember that was pre-Global Warming. I actually did a reasonable amount of research on this 😃 and found that this winter 1800-01 was one of the coldest on record, and the Belts and the Sound were frozen.
  11. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 60

    Well, we really don't know all that much about him yet.
  12. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 60

    September 14, 2003 Escorial, CA Will I was talking to this hockey player from Minnesota named Justin, and he was a nice enough guy but kind of a tool, so that meant our conversation took a minimum amount of mental effort. That worked out well, because even as I bullshitted with him, I kept surreptitiously glancing over at Dillon, only to find him doing the same thing to me. I was intrigued enough to end my lame conversation with Justin and head over and interrupt his conversation with one of the other players. “Hey,” I said cheerfully as I interrupted them. “This place is the bomb,” Dillon said, referring to Escorial. “No shit,” the other guy agreed. He seemed to realize his glass was empty. “I’m heading to the bar.” “Enjoy,” I said in an encouraging way, both to be a good host and to get rid of him. I turned back to Dillon. “How long have you been here?” “We just got in today. Just enough time to get settled in,” he said casually. “After dinner I can give you a tour if you want,” I offered. “Sounds like fun,” he responded. He seemed to have a naturally flirtatious manner, so it was possible he was just playing around, but there was something about the way he looked at me that made me think it was more than that. There was a connection between us that was unique and intense. “So what brings you down here to Palo Alto? You don’t look like a hockey player,” I accused. He was a little classier than the other guys, and just didn’t seem like he fit in with their rough and tumble crowd. I thought that was ironic, since he was sporting a big black eye and wearing a suit that looked horrible on him. “Hockey’s not my game,” he said. “You look like you do something to stay in shape,” I said, since that was obvious, even as I moved my eyes up and down his body in an obvious way. He blushed again, which was fucking adorable. “I’m a fish,” he said. “I love the water.” “What do you do in the water?” I asked, barely hiding my excitement. There was no way I could be that lucky and find out he was a fellow surfer. “I play water polo, I swim, but my favorite deal is surfing,” he said casually. Happy fucking birthday to me! Talk about getting lucky. This god drops from the skies on my birthday and loves the same sport I do! I felt my face explode into a huge smile. “No shit? That’s awesome! That’s one of my favorite things to do!” “Really?” he asked, grinning back at me. “Really,” I confirmed, and with a firm tone so he knew I wasn’t bullshitting him. “Where do you live?” “Eugene, Oregon,” he said. “Beaches are a drive from home, and the water’s fucking cold, but that doesn’t stop me.” “That’s pretty hard core,” I said, stroking his ego. “I’ve never surfed in Oregon,” I said, trying to remember if I’d heard of any good surfing beaches. “I usually go to Florence, which can get pretty radical, or to Winchester Bay,” he said. “Cold water isn’t a problem, but the sharks can freak you out.” “No shit,” I agreed. “If the Great Whites are around, I bail. I haven’t really been bothered by sharks too much though.” “I’ve been lucky too,” he said. It was a risk, part of the sport. “Where do you go?” he asked. “If I’m here, I go to Santa Cruz,” I told him. “We have a beach house there. It’s a pretty sweet setup. We also have a place in Malibu, and there are some decent waves there. But my favorite is Maui.” “I’ve never been to Maui,” he said wistfully. “I’ll bet it’s the bomb.” “Totally,” I agreed. “We ended up getting this house right on the point that overlooks some great surfing beaches. I grab my board and walk down the trail, so it’s an easy commute.” “That’s awesome!” he said. Driving to the beach could totally suck, and once you got there, if it was popular, you had to figure out where to park. Having a place right by the beach was a major luxury. “So what are you doing here? Are you going to Stanford?” I wanted to ask him about his black eye, but that seemed pretty rude, so I was trying to be more diplomatic. It didn’t seem to help, because he got really nervous when I asked that, which kind of surprised me. “No, I decided to come down here and hang out with Klip for a few days. I hope that’s OK.” “Dude, that’s totally OK,” I said enthusiastically, so he’d know he was welcome. “I’ve got school this week, so I don’t know if I can get off early or not, but if I can, we should go to Santa Cruz.” I’d missed so much school with traveling and shit, I hadn’t planned to take a day off, but hanging out with this guy may give me a good reason to do it anyway. He may be worth a slight drop in my GPA. “That would be amazing,” he said. It was so cool to see his eyes light up just like mine would at the thought of surfing. “How long are you going to be here?” I asked him. “I’m planning to be back home by next Monday,” he said, but didn’t sound excited about it, and it didn’t sound like a required deal. “I have this big event on Friday night, but I’m free after that,” I told him. “Block your weekend and we’ll go surfing.” “I am so stoked,” he said. “I mean, I was having a good time, but it sucks to be this close to the water and not be able to catch a wave.” “You can still go over to Santa Cruz during the week,” I told him. “I can tell you where the best surf places are, and you can use our house as a base.” “I don’t have a car, so I’m kinda stuck doing what Klip wants to do,” he said. “You do know how to drive, though, right?” I asked, partly teasing him, even though some guys didn’t bother to get their license until they were older. Shit, JJ would turn 18 in a couple of months, and he didn’t have his. “I know how to drive,” he said, acting annoyed that I’d think he didn’t. “Can you handle a stick?” I asked, raising my eyebrows to definitely make it a double entendre. Only he was starting to relax and get used to me, so he played along with me. “Dude, I’m amazing with a stick,” he said, dropping his voice even lower and making it sultry. If he kept talking like that, I’d have to go back to my room and put on a jock to keep my dick down. “Good to know,” I said. “What else are you good at? You like to ride horses?” “Only done it a few times,” he said, shaking his head. “The horse spent most of the time trying to toss my fat ass off of him.” I laughed at that. “Maybe we’ll spend some time working on that,” I said. “We’ll see about that,” he said dubiously. “Your school starts pretty late,” I observed. “We’re on quarters,” he said. “I just graduated in May, so I’m starting at the local community college.” So he was a year ahead of me, at least as far as school went. “So you decided to come hang out with Klip until you went back?” I asked. He got really uncomfortable when I asked that, nervous enough that his eyes darted around like he was looking for an escape route away from me. “I thought it would be fun, and something different,” he said, only there was more. I was reading him pretty well, and that briefly reminded me of Zach. That made me sad enough and calmed me down so I didn’t act like a complete idiot around this guy. “I think you’re right,” I said. “I think it will be both of those things.” “I’m hoping,” he said. I noticed that it was getting later, and I had a quick task to accomplish. “I’ll be right back,” I said. “That’s cool,” he said, and looked bummed. I guess he thought I’d gotten bored talking to him and I was blowing him off. Rather than spending forever explaining it, I hurried off to achieve my goal. I went into the dining room and checked out the name cards. I found myself in between my father and Darius, while Dillon was down at the other end of the table. I changed things around so Jake was next to my father, I was next to Dillon, and Darius was next to Ryan and John. I went back out onto the patio and saw Dillon by himself, pretty much where I’d left him. “You miss me?” I joked. “No,” he said, sounding like Ryan, then he smiled. “Maybe a little bit.” “Good,” I replied. We were standing near the fountain talking when I saw Stef and Grand emerge into the courtyard. The staff member on bar duty handed them drinks, then they began to make their rounds, chatting with people and making sure everyone felt welcome. I had been mentally tracking their location even as we chatted, so I was ready for them when they walked up. “Well hello there,” Stef said to me. “You look very good tonight.” “I kind of went for the dressy casual look,” I said. “It suits you,” he agreed. “I’d like to introduce you to Klip’s brother Dillon,” I said to them a bit formally. “Dillon, these are my grandfathers.” “Stefan Schluter,” Stef said as he shook Dillon’s hand. “You will call me Stef.” “It’s nice to meet you Mr., er, I mean Stef,” he said, and shot Stef his gorgeous smile. “I think you are even more handsome than your brother, and that is saying something,” Stef said. “Klip’s always been the pretty boy,” Dillon said. “JP Crampton,” Grand said, and shook Dillon’s hand. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about both of you guys,” Dillon said. “We must have liars in our midst,” Stef joked, cracking us up. “Are you going to Stanford too?” “No, I’m just here hanging out with Klip,” Dillon said. “That is too bad,” Stef said. “It would be nice to have you around.” It was funny that Stef was almost flirting with Dillon, and most guys who were his age would have probably let that freak them out, but Dillon handled it just fine. “You’ll just have to come visit instead,” I said. “Dillon and I share a common love.” “I did not realize we were still talking about me,” Stef said, making us laugh. “In addition to you, we both love to surf,” I announced. “Now that is interesting,” Grand said, raising an eyebrow. “You must take him to Santa Cruz.” “That’s exactly what I’m going to do, as soon as I get a chance,” I said. I absolutely had to find a day at school this week where I could escape to do just that. “Did you see Dad and Jake?” “They were here earlier,” Stef said, and glanced around. They had shown up and had been glowing. “Guess they took a break,” I said to him with a grin. “They looked a little flushed. Maybe they overexerted themselves.” “I doubt that if they took a break, that solved the problem,” Stef said playfully, then we laughed at Dad and Jake, even though they weren’t here. “We are very glad you are here, and hope you will feel welcome and at home,” Grand said to Dillon, as he made to move on and end our little gossip session. “I already do,” Dillon said. They moved on to talk to Gathan. “Dude, I can’t believe I just met Stefan Schluter!” “Pretty impressive guy, isn’t he?” I said proudly. “The other guy is more intense,” he said, making me laugh. “We call him Grand. He’s a professor at Stanford, and used to be chair of the history department. You just met two of the smartest men in the world,” I said. “Wow,” he said. I saw my father coming through the door with Jake in tow. Their faces were still a little red, but they had idiotic grins on their faces. It was pretty obvious that they’d gone off and fucked again. I watched him and smiled, then chuckled. Sometimes it was so easy to read him. “What?” Dillon asked, since I was damn near giggling. “Now you’re about to really experience intense,” I said. He looked at me curiously. “You’ll get to meet my father.” “Hey!” Dad said, and gave me a massive hug. When we pulled apart, we connected with just our eyes, and he gave me an irritated look since I’d guessed he’d had a busy interlude with Jake. “This is Dillon,” I said, introducing him to Jake and my father. “Dillon tells me he’s a surfer, but I think he’s full of shit.” “As if,” Dillon said. “One way to find out,” Dad said. “We should go to Santa Cruz.” “Maybe we can figure out a day this week to head over there,” I suggested. “Let me work on that when I get into the office on Monday,” Dad said. “If not, there’s next weekend after the Talent Show.” “Talent Show?” Dillon asked. “It’s a school deal,” I said hastily, then responded to Dad. “Let me know. Dillon says he’s never been to Hawaii, so if he turns out not to be a slug in the waves, I’ll have to figure out a way to drag him over there.” “No dragging is required,” Dillon said, smiling at me. Dad and Jake went to say hello to Gathan, leaving us alone again. “Dude, are all those guys gay?” he asked, referring to Stef, Grand, Dad, and Jake. “They are,” I said, wondering how he felt about that, and wondering if anyone had told him that I was too. “That’s pretty trippy,” he said, and seemed like he was spacing out a bit. “Does that bother you?” I asked, miraculously keeping any hint of nervousness out of my voice. “No,” he said definitively. “It’s cool.” Grand and Stef headed inside, and that prompted me to check the time. I caught Gathan’s eye, and looked at my watch in a meaningful way, my hint to him to round up his boys. “Time for dinner,” Gathan announced. “Nice watch,” Dillon said. I’d worn my gold Breguet watch, one that I used for more formal occasions. “Thanks,” I said. “It was a gift from Stef and Grand.” “Gathan and Klip seem nervous,” he said, noting how they were getting everyone to head inside in a pretty assertive way. “The biggest faux pas you can commit here is to be late to dinner,” I told Dillon. “Dinner happens at 7:00 sharp.” “What happens if you’re late?” he asked. “Grand gives you dirty looks and makes you feel like shit,” I said. “Doesn’t sound so terrible,” he said. “He commands a lot of respect in our family, and he doesn’t usually express his displeasure very often, so when you’re late and you annoy him, it’s a big deal,” I said, even as I led him to the table. “At home, I’d just get yelled at,” he said, then glanced to the head of the table where Grand stood, welcoming everyone. “This is way more effective.” “You have no idea,” I said, thinking of how commanding Grand could be, which was pretty impressive for a short guy. “I’m sitting next to you?” he asked with a smile. “It wasn’t like that before.” “Plans must have changed,” I said obliquely, mostly to hide how embarrassed I was at being totally busted. “Great news for me,” he said to let me know he was glad about that. That got him a big smile. Dinner was an absolute blast. Dad was on a high from having fucked Jake, while I was stoked because I was sitting next to one of the hottest guys I’d ever met, and that tended to drive the mood, which was picked up and enhanced by the rest of the crowd. After dinner, we went into the television room, which was the equivalent to the Great Room at Malibu, the place people got together to hang out in comfortable chairs and watch television. This was the standard routine for birthdays in our family, where we ate dinner, came in here to open presents while the staff cleaned up the dining room, then we’d go back in there for cake. I made Dillon sit next to me, which got me a knowing smirk from Marie, but I was enjoying this guy too much to care. Last year I’d gotten some pretty amazing presents: I’d gotten my Ferrari from my father, and a building and a bar from Stef and Grand. This year was a more mundane year, with cool stuff, but nothing like last year. I was just fine with that. “Sorry I didn’t get you a present,” Dillon said after I was done opening gifts, and we were walking back to the dining room. “Dude, you just met me,” I said, laughing. “Yeah, but I’m here at your birthday party. I should have at least gotten you some Legos or something,” he joked, making it seem like this was a kid’s party. “Cool. I want one of those kits that make the Eiffel Tower,” I joked back. We had cake and everyone sang to me. I thought about how annoying I found that part of this thing, then chuckled to myself when I remembered that was pretty much JJ’s favorite part. He didn’t normally like being the center of attention at family events, but he got into it when people sang to him. I laughed out loud when I thought that someday he should hire his own choir to follow him around and chant all day. “What’s so funny?” Dillon asked. “I was just thinking about my brother JJ,” I told him. He looked at me a bit confused, so I took a few minutes to explain who JJ was, and that he lived in New York. When dinner was over, Gathan and Klip dragged the younger crowd down to the pool, while Grand and the older group went out onto the patio to smoke Grand’s nightly joint. I hung back from the young crowd, and it was cute the way Dillon stopped to wait for me. “You coming down to the pool?” “I’ll be there in a second,” I said. “I just want to thank them for such a nice birthday party.” “We didn’t even play pin the tail on the donkey yet,” he said, cracking me up. “We’ll do that later,” I said, flirting with him, making him chuckle. “See you in the pool,” he said, and took off after the group. He’d shed his suit jacket, so I just stared at his cute little ass as he ambled away. I walked out onto the courtyard to find everyone older than thirty already assembled. “Did you have a nice birthday?” Aunt Claire asked. “I had a great birthday,” I said emphatically. “Thank you all so much.” “Who was that handsome young man you spent so much time with?” she asked. “Dillon Kilpatrick?” I asked, smiling. “He’s Klip’s brother.” “He is very handsome,” Grandmaman said. “He is,” I agreed. “I’m going to go watch him swim, so I can see how handsome he is without a shirt on.” “Almost makes me want to go with you,” Jake said, giving me shit. “You’ve already got your hands full,” I said, and raised an eyebrow as I looked at my father, all but calling them out for being together. Jake and my father blushed while everyone else laughed. “See you later.” Stef chuckled. “Enjoy yourself.” I headed down to the pool and was surprised to find Dillon lurking around outside. “Hey,” he said when he saw me, making it obvious that he’d been waiting for me. “Hey,” I said in a really friendly way. “Looking for me?” “I had to go back to my room and grab something, and I heard your clomping feet coming down the hall,” he joked, to cover up the fact that he’d been waiting for me. “I don’t clomp,” I said. “Stef doesn’t like it. I’d get frowned at.” “You seem pretty worried about upsetting those guys,” he said. I looked at him for a second then started laughing. “That is so not it,” I said. “It’s about respect. I have a lot of respect for them, so I try to show them that by not doing things that annoy them. But if it’s important, I have no problem pissing them off.” “It’s hard to imagine Professor Crampton getting mad and yelling and screaming,” he said. “I can see Stef doing it though.” That was even funnier. “When Grand gets mad, he doesn’t yell, he gets extremely intense and assertive. Stef is even more interesting.” “How?” “Normally Stef is this fun and engaging person, but he didn’t become one of the richest men in the world by being a wimp. He has this really severe business mode, and when he uses that, it freaks people out,” I explained. “They both seem like they’d be pretty scary if you pissed them off,” he said a bit nervously. “You have no idea,” I said. “But they don’t get mad all that easily. The scariest of them is probably my father.” “Why?” he asked curiously. “Because Grand and Stef tend to hold back, but when my dad is pissed off, he’s all in, and he goes for the throat,” I said candidly. “I’ll have to remember not to get on his bad side,” he said. “Dude, you don’t have to worry about any of them. They’re nice guys. So unless you’re planning to do something on purpose to hurt them, you’ll be fine,” I said soothingly. “Besides, I’ll protect you.” “Gee thanks,” he said sarcastically. “Ready to play pin the tail on the donkey?” I joked, and led him into the pool area. September 14, 2003 Escorial, CA Brad “Will’s new friend certainly is handsome,” Stef said. Jack and Claire had gone home while Grandmaman and Frank had gone back to their rooms, so it ended up that it was just Stef, me, JP, and Jake hanging out on the patio, sipping our after dinner drinks. “He is,” I agreed. “I’m not sure what more we could have given him for his birthday. A guy who is hotter than Ryan, who is also an avid surfer.” “You’re assuming he’s into Will,” Jake noted. “That is a good observation,” JP said. “I would normally be cautious about something like that, but this time, my instincts are telling me that Dillon is as enamored with Will as Will is with him.” “I had not quite thought about it so succinctly, but I feel much the same way,” Stef said, even as he pondered that. I’d gotten the same vibe, but I didn’t mention my own views. “Then I would submit that he is most likely into Will,” I said in a lighthearted way. “I’ll have to try to go surfing with them.” “Like they’ll want you around,” Jake said sarcastically. “They’ll want me to surf with them,” I said, surprising him with how convinced and confident I was about that. “I think there is no one whom Will would rather surf with than you,” Stef said. “Although I suspect that Dillon could possibly change that.” “Our trip to Goodwell didn’t turn out like I thought,” I said, changing the subject. I didn’t want to sit here and gossip about Will’s love life any more than I wanted the rest of them talking about mine. “It did not,” JP agreed. “I cannot think about that entire meeting without remembering the debt of gratitude that we owe you,” he said to Jake. “As I recall, this is a team effort, so I would point out that I was just doing my job,” Jake said modestly, which made him just that much hotter. I began to ponder ways to escape so we could go fuck again. Just being around him fueled my libido. “And that is just so much nonsense,” Stef said. “I can understand why that ordeal last night would have fatigued you, though. I noticed you needed to take a break from the pre-dinner cocktail party.” Jake and I blushed, while Stef giggled. “Jake is the most amazing lover I have ever been with,” I pronounced. All three of them looked at me, stunned, although Jake’s expression was replaced by a smile in short order. “Well that is certainly saying something,” JP said, making me sound like I was a total slut. “It certainly is,” I agreed. “I would say the same thing about you,” Jake said, grinning at me. “Only I’m betting I have a bigger base for comparison.” “Perhaps you should both compile numbers on your various partners so we can determine who has more experience,” JP said in his professorial voice. His slight grin gave away that he was giving us shit. “It would be interesting to compare those numbers to yours,” I said. “All I know is that Jake makes me feel like I’m 19 again.” “Well before you both vanish back to your room, I would like to know your thoughts on our meeting at Goodwell,” JP said. “I think that based on what we learned about the Blankford Consortium, it may be a good idea to pass that information on to the Rubios,” Jake said. I grimaced at that, at getting more intimately involved with drug cartels. “I’m not saying that we do anything beyond letting them know what we suspect.” “What’s the best way to accomplish that?” I asked. “I think you should let me talk to my contacts down there,” he responded. “We should keep it at a lower level.” “I’m concerned about keeping our distance, but I do not see how sharing information at that level will cause us undo problems,” JP said. “I received an interesting phone call this afternoon,” Stef said. Jake and I looked at him curiously, while JP did not, probably because he already knew about it. “The government has not only agreed to accept those border properties as partial payment of Buzz Dalby’s estate taxes, they have agreed to value them generously.” “That’s quite a change of heart,” Jake noted. “I got nothing but resistance when I lobbied for that.” “I was not successful either, and I do not think the Dalbys were of much assistance,” Stef said. “Then who made the deal happen?” I asked. “Elizabeth Danfield,” Stef said. “I had to dig and probe a bit, but ultimately she was revealed as the source of government benevolence.” “Does that mean she’s on our side?” Jake asked. I shook my head. “You can never turn your back on her and think she’s on your side. All you can do is treat favors like these as being payment for either her past or future sins.” “As she has managed to cause us significant discomfort this year, I think it is reasonable to credit it against past sins,” JP said, his anger quite apparent beneath his smooth veneer. “I’m not sure that evens the score, but we have enough battles to fight right now,” I said. “Wade seems to think that Lord Preston is not long for this world.” “I would be surprised if he made it back to South Africa alive,” Jake said. “I mean, he’s got all kinds of people gunning for him.” “But not us,” I said. “I think this is one of those things where we are peripherally involved,” JP said. “I hardly think we’re on the sidelines when we just fought off a full-scale military-type assault,” I said acidly. “That assault was most likely aimed at the Duke and his family,” JP said. “I am not saying I am unwilling to support them, what I am suggesting is that we do not need to intervene unless they, or Wade, asks us to.” “So you’re saying that we can safely delegate that issue, and those decisions, to the Danfields and the Grangers,” Jake translated. “That is what I am saying,” JP said crisply. It was funny that he was no happier when Jake paraphrased his ideas than when Will did it. “It almost seems as if this whole conflict has now moved in that direction,” I mused. “What do you mean?” JP asked. “Well, I think I’ve resolved my legal issues with Alexandra’s plea, and I think that with the cession of those lands to the government that curse is lifted,” I explained. “What more do we have at risk?” “We may not have direct risks,” JP said icily, “but we owe it to Wade to support the battles he and his family must fight.” “I didn’t say that we didn’t,” I snapped, irritated that he would make me seem like an unreliable person where Wade was concerned. “Being supportive is distinctly different than being on the firing line,” Stef said smoothly. “I think that is what Bradley was alluding to.” “Thank you,” I said to him. “I’m going to bed.” “I’m going with you,” Jake said, leering at me. JP and Stef chuckled, even as we went inside and went up to my bedroom. We walked in and shut the door and all but ripped our clothes off. Thirty minutes later we found ourselves lying in the bed intertwined, totally satisfied. “I can’t get enough of you,” I said. “You make me feel like I’m back in high school.” “I feel the same way,” he said. “I want you to stay here,” I said firmly. “I’m glad. I didn’t want to drive back this late,” he said with a smile. “I want you to stay here,” I said again, letting him know I wasn’t just talking about tonight. With Marc, we’d talked about it and dealt with his insecurities in a long and drawn out way, but I wasn’t going there with Jake. “Okay,” he said simply. I smiled at him, kissed him, and then fucked him again.
  13. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 13

    August 1800 HMS Valiant Near Hellebæk, Denmark “Almost dawn,” Meurice said to one of his mates. Once again the officers and crew stood to quarters waiting for the sun to rise and reveal what awaited them. This was a major trading route, though, so the officers of Valiant stood on the quarterdeck with more than the normal amount of tension. It was entirely possible that the next few minutes would reveal a large merchantman less than a cable’s length away from them, charging at them like an angry bull. Fortunately, the sun rose to reveal nothing more dangerous than a few coasters some distance away. “Mr. Weston, you may dismiss the hands from quarters and get us back on course. Due south,” Granger ordered. “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. Granger began to pace the deck even as he subconsciously noted the activity around him. His senses were finely tuned to Valiant, so he could do this without anyone being aware of his scrutiny. In fact, they would only find out when their captain, with his evident eagle eye, pointed out something wrong that they had missed. “My lord, there appears to be a lugger headed toward us,” Grenfell said, interrupting his walk and his thoughts. “Indeed?” Granger asked, as stopped pacing and pulled his head out of his prior thoughts. “My lord, the lugger has raised a parley flag above Danish colors,” Llewellyn said. “Please raise a parley flag over our colors as well,” Granger ordered. The two ships closed rapidly: the wind was fair for Valiant, while the lugger had the ability to sail into the wind at a good pace. Granger waited until they were quite close, and then ordered Valiant to heave to. The Danish lugger hove to as soon as Valiant did, clearly mimicking her maneuver. “She’s lowering a boat, my lord,” Travers called. “Looks to be that same lieutenant aboard.” “Let us prepare to receive him,” Granger said affably. He waited patiently on the quarterdeck while the boat was hailed, and smiled broadly as Lieutenant van Hjelmeland pulled himself through the entry port. “What a pleasure to see you again, Lieutenant.” “The pleasure is certainly mine, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said. “Your colleagues were able to travel easily to Copenhagen, and have been accommodated there.” “Thank you for relaying that news to me,” Granger said. “Would you care to join me in my cabin for some refreshments?” “With pleasure,” he said. Granger led him to his cabin, to the quarter galley with its comfortable leather chairs, and poured them both a glass of wine. “This is excellent wine, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said. “It was a gift from a friend of mine who got it in France,” Granger said. “I have brought you some letters, but there is one that I must deliver to you personally, my lord,” he said. He handed Granger a packet, then one individual letter, addressed to The Right Honorable Viscount Granger, commanding His Britannic Majesty’s Ship Valiant. “Since this is obviously important, you will pardon me if I open it at once?” Granger asked. “It is from His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said. “He outranks me.” The charming young man grinned as he said that. “He outranks me as well,” Granger said with a smile. He opened the letter and was quite surprised by its contents. My lord, His Royal Highness has been pleased to learn that you are in His Danish Majesty’s waters. Your reputation as a distinguished sailor, and one who has navigated around the world, has intrigued His Royal Highness such that he has commanded me to request that you visit him at Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen, provided that is consistent with your current duties and responsibilities. The bearer of this letter can guide you safely to harbor. Count Bernstorff “His Royal Highness has invited me to call on him,” Granger said to van Hjelmeland, something he most likely knew. “That is quite an honor, begging your pardon, my lord,” the lieutenant responded. “Indeed it is,” Granger agreed. He wanted to read the other letters to see if Whitworth, Daventry, and Cavendish thought it was a good idea for him to sail blithely into Copenhagen, but to do that seemed to smack of weakness. In addition, to not immediately agree to call on the Crown Prince could be perceived as an insult at a time when Britain had few friends in these waters. “I am told you are to guide us.” “I am pleased be of assistance, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said. “Then let us get underway,” Granger said politely. He led the Danish lieutenant back to the quarterdeck. “Mr. Weston, we have been invited to visit Copenhagen. Lieutenant van Hjelmeland will guide us to our anchorage.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. “I will leave it to you gentlemen to get us on course, while I read the latest communiqués Lieutenant van Hjelmeland has brought me,” Granger said. “Of course, my lord,” Weston said. Granger went back to his cabin, even as he felt Valiant’s motion change as she got underway again. He had three letters, one each from Whitworth, Daventry, and Cavendish. Although quite different in style, they all three strongly recommended that he accept the Crown Prince’s invitation. Granger returned to the quarterdeck and joined Weston and van Hjelmeland as Valiant made her way toward the Sound. “That is Kronborg Castle, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said, gesturing toward a fortress that stood on the Danish side of the Kattegat, guarding the narrowest entrance to the Baltic Sea. “It is sometimes known to you English as Elsinore.” “It is quite imposing,” Granger said, even as he eyed this structure that Shakespeare had immortalized in Hamlet. His military eye was more tuned in, though, and if the fortress were equipped with large caliber cannon, it would make forcing this passage most unpleasant. Granger looked across the water to the Swedish city of Helsingborg, and was glad to note there was no corresponding fort on the Swedish side. If there were, and they were working together, traversing through this narrow strait would be a challenge even for a fleet. As soon as they passed Elsinore, Granger was alarmed to see three Danish 74-gun ships of the line moored across the entrance, forming all but a blockade. He was unsure as to the capabilities of the guns of Elsinore, but he was much more able to assess the power of these ships. “These ships are not always moored here, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said. “They have been placed here with news of the arrival of your fleet.” “They appear to be in a peaceful mood today, a fact I am most glad of,” Granger said with a smile. “You have nothing to worry about, in any event, my lord,” he responded. “You are a guest of the Crown Prince Regent.” “And knowing that, I have no fears for my safety,” Granger said, even though he had to bite back his nervousness as Valiant approached those formidable Danish broadsides. The Danish ships appeared to be in good repair, although since they were anchored, Granger did not have a chance to evaluate their sail drill. They followed the lugger astern of the central ship, the one that flew a Commodore’s broad pennant. Valiant dipped her flag politely, while Granger and the other officers on the quarterdeck removed their hats to their Danish counterparts, gestures which they returned. While they passed through the battleships unscathed, there was no denying the tension emanating from both Valiant and the Danish ships. Once past Elsinore and the Danish battleships, the Sound widened considerably, but buoys marking the shoal waters demonstrated how misleading that widening actually was. “This is the island of Hven, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said, gesturing at a small body of land almost directly in front of them. “It belongs to Sweden.” They followed the lugger to the left of the island, where there was more and presumably deeper water. “I am surprised there is no fort on that island,” Granger said. “There is really no need,” van Hjelmeland said. “Controlling the Sound is Denmark’s affair, not Sweden’s.” Granger wondered if the Swedes would be so willing to acknowledge that, but kept his thoughts to himself. As it was now the time for dinner, he led van Hjelmeland back to his cabin and treated him to some of Lefavre’s superb cooking. “You are Danish, are you not?” Granger asked him, as his mention of Denmark had been a bit detached, as if he was not identifying as a Dane. “I am a Norwegian, my lord,” he said proudly. “We have the same King, but we are a different country, at least in our minds.” “I fancy that Scotsmen must feel the same way,” Granger mused. “I have heard Norway is beautiful.” “Indeed, my lord?” van Hjelmeland asked curiously. “When I was off the coast of Chile, in South America, some of my crew members who had been to Norway told me it was very similar, and as that was a breathtakingly beautiful land, I assume Norway is as well,” Granger said. “Norway’s beauty is without parallel, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said proudly. “I hope that someday you will be able to see it for yourself.” “I think I would like that,” Granger said. They chatted away in a friendly way, but ate relatively quickly. As soon as they had finished and returned to the quarterdeck, a city appeared off their starboard view, as if it were mystically being hidden by the small Swedish island of Hven. “That is Copenhagen, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said, following Granger’s eyes. “If we were transiting into the Baltic, we would take the Hollander Channel to the left. That area with the buoys is the Middle Ground.” “The Middle Ground looks to be as wide as the channel itself,” Granger observed. “What is that structure in the middle of the water?” “That, my lord, is the Trekroner fort. Along with the Citadel, it forms the backbone of Copenhagen’s formidable defenses,” van Hjelmeland said. “We will anchor near it, but only because it conveniently marks an area where there is no shoal water.” By pointing out first Kronborg, and now Trekroner and the Citadel, Granger was conscious that van Hjelmeland was clearly trying to impress upon him how formidable Denmark’s defenses were. “That would appear to be a wise move then,” Granger said with a smile. “I have no desire to try to heave my ship off a shoal in front of the populace of Copenhagen.” Van Hjelmeland chuckled. “We will avoid that for today, at least.” The ship approached the fort, which appeared to be situated in the middle of the main waterway into Copenhagen. The King’s Channel was the channel to the right of the middle ground, running parallel to the Hollander Channel, and that is where van Hjelmeland ordered Granger to anchor. “A boat should arrive shortly to take us into the city.” “I am at your disposal,” Granger said politely. “I would think that, based on the hour, we will not be able to return you to your ship until at least tomorrow, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said. “That is understandable,” Granger said. “If you will excuse me, I will go to my cabin and make sure I have everything I need for a short stay ashore.” “Of course, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said politely. Granger strode back to his cabin and found Winkler waiting for him. “I am bidden to go ashore to see the Danish Crown Prince, and it is unlikely I’ll be back before tomorrow,” Granger said. “I will bring an extra shirt along, at least, my lord,” Winkler said, his tone indicating that he was planning to join Granger. “I knew I could rely on you to make sure I am well turned out,” Granger said with a smile. Winkler helped Granger into his best uniform, the one with all of his decorations, and then applied himself to packing up for their trek to Copenhagen. Granger was not surprised to find that Jacobs had joined them as well, and gave Winkler a knowing smirk, making the young man blush slightly. A relatively ornate barge approached them, and answered Valiant’s hail to acknowledge that this indeed was Granger’s ride. “The Crown Prince Regent has sent his own barge to get you, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said solemnly. “That is quite an honor His Royal Highness does for me,” Granger said. “Mr. Weston, I will be ashore at least until tomorrow.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. Granger strode off to the rail with Weston, so they were both safely out of everyone’s earshot. “I do not think there is any risk for my safety, or for Valiant, but if something should happen to me, you should seek out Lords Cavendish, Daventry, or Whitworth for guidance,” Granger said. “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said calmly. It was a strange situation, where tension levels were very high, yet Granger instinctively trusted the Danish to honor their word, and it seemed that Weston felt the same way. Granger followed Winkler, Jacobs, and van Hjelmeland into the barge, greeted the officer in command of her, and then sat on the rear thwart, taking in the environment. The others thankfully left him alone with his thoughts. Granger began to get his first impression of Danish opulence by studying the barge. He’d thought it was relatively ornate, but that had been based on his assumption that it belonged to an admiral, not the Sovereign of a nation. In that regard, it was quite understated. Granger was reminded of his own King, who was sometimes dowdy and most un-kingly, and at times did not seem overly concerned that his residences were in relative states of disrepair. But even compared to George III, these trappings were more akin to what a nobleman in England would consider appropriate. Granger internally rolled his eyes at what his French, Spanish, and Neapolitan friends would think of such utilitarianism. The monarchs of those countries had taken ostentation to an unbelievably advanced degree. The Danish Royal barge would seem positively common compared to the gilded monstrosities those countries would consider more appropriate. His eyes focused on Trekroner fort, and for all of van Hjelmeland’s posturing, Granger found the structure to be relatively benign. First of all, it did not even seem to be completed. There were no visible barracks or shelter for troops who would be there to man the guns and defend it, making them very vulnerable to attack by bomb vessels. If one did not look too closely, it was very imposing, but if one took a more measured look, it seemed to be almost a death trap for the unfortunate Danes damned to man it. His eyes focused on Copenhagen, a lovely city which seemed mildly eclipsed by the imposing Citadel. There was little Granger could find to complain about that massive defensive edifice. “Copenhagen is so completely surrounded by water, that it makes sense you would produce such brave and skilled sailors,” Granger said, smiling at van Hjelmeland. “In Norway, it is perhaps even more apparent, my lord,” he said. “There was a famous Norwegian Captain named Apkott. He survived a massive maelstrom, and when questioned about it, he replied simply that to know Norway was to know the sea.” “That is a trait our nations share,” Granger noted, reminding this man that Britain’s maritime heritage was equally impressive. They sailed to a small pier and disembarked, where they were led directly to a carriage that was nice in a similar way to the barge. Granger pondered that his own carriage was probably only a bit less ornate than this one. The ride was short, and led them around the Citadel and into the town. Near the harbor front, they came upon four stately looking buildings, all positioned to face a central statue. “This is Amalienborg Palace,” van Hjelmeland said. “Various members of the Royal Family live in these Pavilions.” Granger thought it looked more like four townhouses positioned in an odd way, but he kept his thoughts on that to himself. The carriage pulled up to one of the houses, and footmen arrived to help them out. Granger and van Hjelmeland entered the Palace, which was quite ornately decorated, seemingly at odds with its external plainness. Winkler and Jacobs followed at a respectful distance, looking completely out of place in this environment. A rather splendidly dressed chap appeared, and from the key on his coat Granger could tell he was a chamberlain. “His Royal Highness welcomes you to Copenhagen, and to Amalienborg Palace,” he said pompously in French. “As it is not yet the time for supper, we have prepared a room for you to refresh yourself after your arduous boat journey.” “I am most appreciative of His Royal Highness’s hospitality,” Granger said formally. He led them up the stairs to a room that was very nicely decorated, and was most likely some sort of state bedroom reserved for visiting dignitaries. It was quite an honor to be housed in such nice accommodations. “I will retrieve you in one hour to escort you down to supper, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said, as he made to leave. “I need to get in contact with my fellow Britons,” Granger said, obviously referring to Whitworth, Daventry, and Cavendish. “I do not think they have been invited to supper, my lord,” he replied, “but I will make sure they know you are here.” “I am most obliged,” Granger said, even though that was quite unusual. He would have expected the Crown Prince to invite the rest of the British delegation. That he did not made Granger suspicious, as if there was some reason for them to be divided. “A bit odd, my lord,” Winkler noted, after van Hjelmeland had left. “Indeed,” Granger agreed. “Let us use this time to see if I can burnish my appearance for his Royal Highness.” “As you wish, my lord,” Winkler said. With Winkler’s help, he was able to fully restore his appearance to what it would be if he were going to St. James’s Palace. He spent the remainder of his time gazing out at the inner harbor of Copenhagen, one that was protected not only by the Citadel, but by an imposing boom that would stop any unwanted interlopers and would be extremely effective in keeping out fire ships. Moored along the docks were nine Danish battleships ranging from smaller 60-gun ships to a larger 80-gun vessel. Those ships looked as if they were completely unready for sea, but they seemed to be in good repair nonetheless. As Guebertin had suggested, these were probably the backbone of the Danish navy, maintained safely away from Admiral Dickson and his ragtag fleet. A scratch at his door heralded the arrival of van Hjelmeland, who led him downstairs to a room that seemed to serve as a general reception area. A chamberlain announced him as he entered the room, much as would happen if he were at Carlton House. There were several people in the room, men and women who were presumably members of the Danish Court, but despite this panoply of well-dressed people it was quite easy to spot the Crown Prince. He was a handsome man who appeared to be in his thirties, with a long face and blond hair that was similar in color to Granger’s. Granger followed van Hjelmeland’s lead and approached the Crown Prince, bowing as he would to the Prince of Wales. “We are pleased to welcome you to Denmark,” the Crown Prince said to him affably. Granger was happy to note that he spoke English, which made sense, since his mother was a British Princess. “I must thank Your Royal Highness for your invitation to call on you,” Granger replied. “Your blond hair nearly matches my own, reminding me of the blood bonds between our two nations,” the Crown Prince said. “As my family is from Derbyshire, which was part of the Danelaw, I suspect that is even truer for me, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said, smiling broadly. “We will sup soon, and then I would like to hear of your exploits,” he said. “I am at Your Royal Highness’s disposal,” Granger said. He was introduced to the people who were present, most notably Count Bernstorff, the Foreign Minister. Granger found the man to be quite wily, and worried that Whitworth would underestimate his shrewdness. At supper, he sat next to Captain Steen Bille, an older and distinguished Danish Naval Officer who conveniently enough spoke English. The Danish Countess who sat to his right knew only Danish and German, so Granger felt less badly about all but ignoring her. “I had the honor of meeting your grandfather,” Bille said. “I have not seen him for a number of years, but fortunately his letters are quite entertaining,” Granger noted. “He is a man who, when he gives his word, it is an ironbound pledge,” Bille said reverently. “I must thank you for those kind words on his behalf and will certainly relay them to him when I get the chance,” Granger noted. “I have also spent some time in the East Indies, but I was there long before your brother,” he said. “I suspect that, even if you had met my brother, you would not have been able to be as effusive in your praise as you were for my grandfather, but you would have found him quite charming, nonetheless,” Granger said, smiling broadly. “So I have heard,” Bille said, smiling back. “It is most unfortunate that our paths have not crossed, and most surprising, since I was in the Mediterranean fighting pirates in 1797, much as you were.” “If memory serves, you were tackling Tunisian corsairs, while I have made myself the most hated man in Oran,” Granger said, getting a laugh from Bille. “Neither one of us is popular in those waters,” he said. Thanks mostly to Bille, the meal ended up being quite pleasant, although the food wasn’t nearly as good as the meals Granger was used to, courtesy of Lefavre. After supper, the women left them and the men retired to a room resembling a big library, chatting amongst each other. After a while, the Crown Prince withdrew from the room, which was evidently a cue for the party to disperse. Granger shrugged internally and prepared to retire to his room when a chamberlain approached him and bid him to follow him. He led him to a smaller room, one that was decorated in a similar way to the library, and one that was occupied only by the Crown Prince. “I have been looking forward to hearing of your exploits, Lord Granger,” the Crown Prince said. “Your reputation precedes you.” “I am flattered, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said. He shocked Granger by bidding him to sit in one of the leather armchairs, and by pouring him a glass of port. Such an intimate posture was almost unheard of. Then he quizzed Granger about his career, compelling Granger to recount his capture of the Oran Ruby, his visit to the Alhambra Palace, and his trip around the world. It was quite informal, and for Granger it was most uncomfortable, since he detested crowing about his own achievements, but he endured it. After he finished describing his capture of the Thetis and Santa Brigada, the Crown Prince sat back in his chair, adopting a thoughtful pose. “It is rumored that you are tasked to conduct Lord Daventry to St. Petersburg,” the Crown Prince said, almost an accusation. Granger wondered how he had found out about that, about his mission, yet resolved to give nothing away, and to keep his guard up. “I have been ordered to follow Lord Daventry’s directions, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said, deftly avoiding confirming the Crown Prince’s rumor. “I am unsure where that will take me.” “I think it is important for you to understand what awaits you should you pursue that course of action,” the Prince said. His tone had switched to one that was firm and rather unpleasant. “I am confident that you will appreciate what I am saying much more than your colleagues.” “I am of course glad of any information Your Royal Highness can impart,” Granger said calmly. “When you leave Copenhagen, you can sail back through the Sound and rejoin your Admiral Dickson, and forget this futile mission to see the Tsar,” he said. “On the other hand, if you sail east, you will be treading into hostile waters.” “While I certainly wouldn’t want to provoke a conflict, Your Royal Highness, I must certainly go where I am ordered,” Granger said, making it seem as if he had no real choice. He paused to mentally note that, in fact, he did not have such a choice. “Once you sail down the Hollander Channel, any ship you encounter will be hostile,” the Prince said, stating that as a fact. “We have received pledges of support in our arguments with your country, and in our attempt to seek justice in the Freya affair, from the courts at Stockholm, St. Petersburg, and Berlin.” “Your Royal Highness is telling me that if I enter the Baltic, any Danish, Swedish, German, or Russian ship I encounter will be, to all intents and purposes, an enemy vessel?” Granger asked for clarity. “That is what I am telling you,” he said. “That is indeed a most daunting challenge,” Granger noted, although it was what he had already been led to believe. “I did not want such an esteemed sailor to wander into a situation where he faced almost certain defeat,” the Prince said. Granger almost raised an eyebrow to challenge the Prince’s use of the term ‘certain defeat.’ “I must thank Your Royal Highness for your warning and your concern,” Granger said, forcing himself to sound genuinely appreciative in the face of these blatant threats. “There is something else to consider,” he said, and an almost sinister look spread across his face. “The Baltic will freeze soon, and it is sometimes possible that it will even freeze over the Sound, and even the Great Belt. I would submit that even if you were able to make it to St. Petersburg before that port freezes, you may find that you could not make it out of the Baltic before those passages freeze as well.” “I was not aware that the entrances to the Baltic froze, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said, letting that dilemma register in his brain. He hadn’t considered that getting out of the Baltic would be a problem, other than braving the Danish batteries that guarded it. “And while it saddens me to say this, it is unlikely that our issues will be resolved by the time you attempted to extricate yourself from this sea, and in that case, my obligations to my allies would force me to consider your ship to be hostile, and my batteries would be compelled to attempt to stop your exit,” the Crown Prince said. “You have enlightened me to a number of challenges I had not foreseen, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said. “For that, I am most grateful.” “I am hopeful that armed with this knowledge, you will be able to better explain things to your Lord Daventry. It is my experience that diplomats know little of the sea and the limitations it places on travel,” he said. “That is most certainly true, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said, smiling, even though his mind was roiling inside. “To them, it often seems as if it is as simple as going from one point to another, with no regard to weather, tides, or other hazards.” “Well, there are no tides in the Baltic, but there are other hazards aplenty,” the Prince said. He stood up, indicating that their conversation was over. “I must again express my appreciation to Your Royal Highness for explaining the risks I would face if I am ordered into the Baltic,” Granger said, standing as well. “And I must further thank you for the considerable honor you have done me by inviting me to call on you, and for giving me a private interview of such length.” “You are welcome,” the Prince said, then paused before going on. “Your diplomats here are either old and short-sighted, like Lord Whitworth, or young and impulsive, like Lord Daventry. I am glad to be able to explain things to a man who seems to comprehend the situation in a more balanced way.” “Thank you, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said, bowing as the Prince made to leave. “I will look forward to meeting you again under more pleasant circumstances,” he said, then left the room. A chamberlain arrived to take a somewhat flummoxed Granger back to his room. Of the things that the Prince had told him, only one thing worried him. He had no idea that, even if he were successful in completing his trip to St. Petersburg, escaping from the Baltic may not be possible. If he entered the Baltic now, it was entirely probable that he would not be able to exit it until March of next year.
  14. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 59

    September 14, 2003 Goodwell, VA Wade It was hard to imagine being more exhausted than I was right now. The preparation for yesterday’s meeting, hosting everyone, then the drama of having the attack force advancing on Goodwell, would have been tiring enough. But after the helicopters arrived, everyone had hurried to the Great Room to see what was going on. That meant we had to explain what had happened, what was currently happening, and what was probably going to happen. After that, we had to have lengthy conversations about it. No sooner had that been completed than we’d had interviews with the FBI as they worked to identify who exactly was attacking us. And now it was morning, and we were destined to have yet another meeting. I walked into the library, stifling a yawn as I did. I was surprised to see Alex looking chipper, and pretty much like his normal self. That was quite the contrast from the disintegrating puddle of a person he’d been yesterday. My mother looked pensive, which was probably not good, while everyone else seemed to be fighting a combination of shock and relief. “Good morning,” I lied. “I would like to take this opportunity to wish Will a happy birthday. He’s seventeen now.” “Thanks,” he said. It seemed like he’d been older than that for years now, so having him actually turn seventeen was almost a letdown. “I get to share my birthday with Riley.” “That’s very nice,” Mother said, then got serious. “What’s our status? What is going on?” “They estimate that we were attacked by a force of five men,” Jake said. “It’s important to note that that’s an estimate. I would have guessed six.” “How many did they kill or capture?” JP asked. “Three,” Jake responded. “That means that there are probably at least two other men out there, and these are trained fighters, so they are very dangerous.” Everyone looked around nervously, as if they would come bursting through the windows, machine gunning us all, at any minute. “We have adequate security at the moment, but it is probably not wise for us to remain here until they either catch the other men, or flush them out of the area,” I said. “I’ve made arrangements for us to leave in about an hour.” “I’ll need to pack,” Mother said. “In a minute,” I told her. “We will need to establish what happened, and what is happening, then we can devise a plan to deal with it. All of that can’t happen today.” “Well, then we shall have to converse again at some future point,” the Duke said. “Do they know who the attackers were?” Brad asked. “The men who were captured appear to be Latinos,” Jake said, which didn’t surprise any of us, especially after we’d heard them speaking Spanish last night. “Their country of origin is still unknown. The FBI suspects they are mercenaries hired by a cartel, and that means they probably had some guerilla warfare training in Central America.” “I think before we leave, it is very important that we express our gratitude to Jake Pike and the men he hired,” I said. “His deduction that there was a risk to us, and the quick steps he took to set up our security team, undoubtedly saved our lives.” “Really?” Mother asked. “Really,” I said firmly. “I was in the control room, and I watched the relentless advance of this group. They took out our sophisticated electronic devices, and tried to cut off our men from the house. And when one of the men was wounded, his cohort shot him so he wouldn’t be able to talk. That is how ruthless they are.” That got stunned looks from the room. “Then I am indeed most appreciative of your intuitive abilities, and your quick work,” the Duke said. He got up and shook Jake’s hand, setting a precedent for the rest of us to follow. Everyone got up in turn and shook Jake’s hand, except for Will and Brad, who gave him man hugs. “I want to suggest that you consider improving security here,” Jake said. “I would have told you that even before this incident.” “We haven’t needed it,” I said, “but it is probably a good idea.” “Think about this,” Jake said, a note of caution in his voice. “The attack last night failed miserably, but only because we were ready for them. If the guys I brought in hadn’t done what they did, they may very well have murdered everyone in this house. With my guys here, it was impossible for them to advance fast enough to achieve their goals before the alarm was given and outside help came.” “And as we noted, we are grateful for your help,” the Duke said, evidently thinking Jake was merely crowing about his achievement. “What I’m saying is that they were expecting Goodwell to have the kind of security it had before, and if that had been the case, they would have breezed right past it,” he reiterated. “But what I’m also saying is that they clearly had no idea we were onto their game.” “That could be a very dangerous assumption,” Mother said. Jake certainly had her attention. “That assault was a very costly failure for them, one I’d think was almost a disaster,” he said. “They wouldn’t have done that just as a gesture.” “I would think they’d assign little value to the lives of the men they lost,” Alex noted. “You would be wrong about that,” Jake said. “Those kinds of trained soldiers are very valuable, and a relatively limited commodity. But it’s worse than that, because when whoever paid them next goes to hire people like that, they’ll find their credibility in question. And think of what they’ve done. They’ve launched an attack on one of America’s oldest historic homes and America’s oldest families. You don’t think the FBI will be all over this?” “That makes sense,” Brad agreed, even as he thought about it. “It’s an embarrassment for them and their drug task force,” Jake said. “People will be asking: How did they let cartels operate a commando group in the US?” “So you are suggesting that because they lost three men, failed to achieve their objectives, successfully diminished their ability to recruit trained mercenaries, and invited the wrath of American law enforcement, they have incurred a devastating defeat?” JP asked for clarity. “That is what I’m saying,” Jake confirmed. “And you are hypothesizing that they must not have known we were somewhat aware and alert about their enmity, otherwise they would not have risked such a calamity?” “I am,” he said. “I would then point out that if you are right, they will now credit us with being much more informed,” Mother said. “Surprise will not necessarily be on our side in the future.” “That is probably the case,” I agreed. “In any event, if we are to get you all safely off to your destinations, I must give you time to go pack.” “We will have to plan for a follow up meeting,” JP reminded me. “We’ll work on that,” Brad promised, taking that burden off of me. “So we are to pack up and go home?” Alex asked, just for clarity. “That is my suggestion,” I said with a smile. “But you are always welcome here.” “Thank you for that, Wade. I am planning to stay in the US for a bit, but I probably will stay elsewhere, at least for this trip.” “It is most unwise for you to stay here after the carnage we have witnessed. Remember, Alex, that some of those men are still in the environs, and that you are most likely one of their key targets,” the Duke objected. “You are welcome to come back, but you should focus on your safety, and return to England with us.” “I hardly think the entire state is dangerous, and I would not let some miscreants scare me away, in any event,” Alex said firmly, showing some real courage, both in staying in the area, and in standing up to the Duke. “And what are you risking your life for?” the Duke asked imperiously. “I am going to go see my mother,” he announced. “I’ll fly back after that.” “If you want me to go with you, I will,” Mary Ellen said, which was pretty sweet of her, since I could tell she was ready to go back to England immediately. “It would be wonderful to have your company, but I would feel so much better if you were back in England with Ricky,” he said to her lovingly. “Alex, perhaps you would like to stay with me in the capital?” Mother asked. “My home is quite secure, and I would be able to help you track down your mother.” Mary Ellen and I looked at each other and cringed when she mentioned the security at her compound. It was a jail for those on the inside, and a fortress facing those on the outside. “That sounds like an excellent plan,” Alex said smoothly. “Thank you for your hospitality.” “It is most certainly my pleasure,” Mother said. “I must go pack.” That served to empty the room of her, Alex, the Duke, Nana, and Mary Ellen. I walked over and closed the door behind them, then turned back to talk to JP, Jake, Matt, Tiffany, Stef, and Will. “I think my mother is plotting to have Lord Preston killed.” “What makes you think that?” Brad asked. “I heard her on the phone yesterday, telling someone to ‘take him out’,” I said. “She gave me some ridiculous explanation as to what she was talking about, but based on her reaction in our meeting last night, I’m pretty sure she was talking about him.” “As long as he is alive, Alex and Ricky will be endangered,” JP said. “Why?” Matt asked. “I thought Lord Preston was the one who was holding his wife back?” “If Lord and Lady Preston find out that Alex’s mother is still alive, and that their existing children are bastards, one solution would be to ensure that their marriage is legal and to have another child,” JP noted. “You think they don’t know she’s alive?” I asked, even as I pondered that. “I cannot believe that they do,” JP said. “Why would they go through all of this effort, knowing there’s a loose end out there that could derail everything?” “So you’re suggesting that if Lord Preston dies, Lady Preston will find that she has two of his children, but they are bastards, and there really isn’t much she can do about it?” I asked. “Possibly,” JP said. “I wonder if there’s a way around that?” Matt asked. We looked at him, confused. “I wonder if there’s a way they could still make sure their marriage was legal?” “I believe there is some requirement for the parties to believe they are in a legal marriage,” Jake said. “It may be possible to claim ignorance and avoid having it declared illegal.” “I wonder if Lord Preston would be more useful alive than dead in that case?” Stef asked. “We’ll have to think about that,” Brad noted. “In any event, if your mother has given the order to have him ‘taken out’, I’m not sure there’s anything we should or could do to save him.” “In the meantime, we’ve taken extra security measures to help us leave this place,” I said. “Jake’s men will escort our groups to the airport.” “Is it possible that someone could ambush our plane?” Will asked, thinking of other ways they could get to us. “I mean, if they’re looking for us, it’s a pretty big target.” “Security at and around the airport has been increased,” Brad explained. “We’ll be fine.” Darius gave Will a smarmy look, as if he’d been a pussy for asking about the plane’s security in the first place, and Will glared back at him, so that served to send the rest of them off to get ready to leave as well. Within half an hour, I heard the all too familiar noise of a helicopter; only in this case, it was only the jet copter I’d hired to fly our British-bound passengers to New York. The craft arrived and took Nana, Mary Ellen, and the Duke off to catch the next Concorde. Almost as soon as the helicopter left, the big Suburban limousine pulled up to take JP, Stef, Brad, Will, Jake, and Darius to the airport. There was another vehicle there as well, only this one contained a driver and Ramon, who would ride along with the big Suburban to ensure it wasn’t ambushed. That, in turn, was followed by another car to take Alex and my mother back to the capital and a similar escort car with Joe along for security. Once they got back to DC, Alex could presumably work on finding his mother, and my mother could work on saving her tattered reputation. I somehow found time to meet with the staff and calm them down before the Suburban returned from the airport, only to compel it to turn around and take us to the airport. I was truly relieved when I was able to drag my tired ass out to the vehicle and head back to Boston with Matt, Tiffany, Riley, and Maddy. “Dude, I think that next time we have a family event, we should just have it in Boston,” Matt said. “Goodwell is like a curse.” I laughed at that. “This meeting may end up having a happy ending,” I said. “I’d prefer not to end up in a war zone again,” Tiffany said icily. “So would I,” I agreed. “Let’s put that behind us and focus on celebrating Riley’s birthday.” I’d said that last line cheerfully and enthusiastically, even as I begged my body for enough energy reserves to get through it without falling asleep. September 14, 2003 Charlottesville, VA Brad We were all nervous as we boarded Stef’s plane, wondering if there was a bomb on board, or if a surface to air missile would come soaring after us as we took off. We said very little, just buckled ourselves in and waited with bated breath as the plane took off. It wasn’t until we reached 10,000 feet that the tension began to ease, and when it did, it was replaced by exhaustion. “I’m thinking that we should take a nap, and then we can talk about this when we get back,” I suggested. “You can have my bedroom,” Stef said. “JP rarely sleeps much anyway, and I am doing just fine.” “Thanks, Stef,” I said. “I’m going to pass that offer on to Will, though. It is his birthday.” “I’ll let you have the big bedroom as long as you share it with Jake,” Will said, smirking at me. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s got a deal,” Jake said. “We’ll see you in a while,” I said, shaking my head at my son and his attempts to get me laid. I led Jake back to Stef’s palatial bedroom, and he immediately began stripping off his clothes. I was wondering if he was going to get completely naked, so I went more slowly, letting him set the pace. When he kept his boxers on, so did I. “Thanks for sharing,” Jake said. “This is pretty nice.” “It is,” I said. He got in on one side and I got in on the other, making me chuckle to myself, thinking we were going to bed just like an old married couple. “You were magnificent this weekend.” “I wasn’t the only one,” he said. He leaned in and kissed me gently, then curled up against my side and laid his head on my chest. I usually liked to be in that position after I had sex with someone, because that’s when I felt the most vulnerable, so I decided to project that onto him and assume he was relying on me to give him some much-needed security after all we’d dealt with last night. I was wondering if he wanted me to fuck him, then I heard his soft snores, and that was a little deflating, to think he must not have even thought about sex while I was here, laboring in my mind about it. My ruminations ended shortly after that when I fell asleep too. I was woken up when a hand poked at my shoulder. I looked up to find Will smiling down at us. “Doesn’t smell like sex in here.” “It doesn’t,” I confirmed. My voice, resonating through my chest and into Jake’s head, woke him up. “We’re landing in about half an hour. Thought you’d want some time to wake up,” he said. “Thanks,” I said, and then he left us alone. “You make a nice pillow,” Jake said, even as he kissed my nipple. “I was so tired, not even having your sexy body almost on top of me could keep me awake,” I told him. “I should probably head up to the City,” he said. “I haven’t been home in forever.” I couldn’t hide my disappointment. “I was hoping you could stay in Palo Alto, at least for tonight.” “Why?” “Well, it’s Will’s birthday, and he’d like it if you were around,” I said, playfully dodging his real question. “We probably need to spend some time talking about all of this shit, and planning our next moves.” “And?” he asked suggestively. “I liked sleeping with you,” I said honestly. “I liked sleeping with you too,” he said. Ironically enough, that seemed to be our cue to get up and put our clothes back on. “I’m sorry I bailed on you,” he said. “What are you talking about?” “On 9-11,” he said. “I should have stuck around.” “Why didn’t you?” I asked. “I threw some serious shit at you the night before,” he said. “I wanted to give you some space to think about it.” I smiled at him and kissed him again, even as my feelings for him swelled. “I was wondering if that’s what you were doing. I told Stef that if you did that, it was a really nice and thoughtful thing to do.” “I also had another errand to take care of, and I got that done while I was in DC,” he said. He handed me a piece of paper, and based on the letterhead, it was from a medical clinic. It delineated all the tests they’d given him, tests for STDs. “You went and got tested?” I asked stupidly, as that should have been evident from the paper he handed me. “I got your point, why this would freak you out, and you were right,” he said. “I don’t’ want you to feel pressured or anything. It was just a precaution.” “You were plotting to sleep with me,” I accused. “I’ve been doing that since I met Will that first time,” he said. “That’s no secret.” “I didn’t realize I was that tough to fuck,” I joked, getting a laugh from him, and then he got serious. “You’re more than just a fuck.” That got him a nice kiss. “And by the way, the tests were negative.” “That’s really good news,” I said, and felt my hormones starting to rise. “I talked to Jack about your condition.” He frowned at me, because that was pretty personal information. “He’s a doctor. He won’t talk to anyone about it.” “So did he tell you I was full of shit?” he asked defensively. “No, but he does want you to come see him when you can,” I said. “So he can run tests and determine if I’m really immune to HIV?” he asked, getting really bitchy. “No,” I said firmly. “He wants to set you up with a neurologist, to see if they can help you out with your other problem. He says they’ve made a lot of advances in that field over the past few years.” “Really?” he asked. I could see the hope in his eyes, something I, or probably any man, could understand. “Really,” I said. “Personally, I’m not sure it’s such a good thing.” “Why?” “Because I like that you’re a bottom. If you become a top again, that’s going to make things a little tougher,” I told him playfully, even though it probably wouldn’t be an issue. “I thought you were versatile,” he said. “If this works, we’ll find out if that’s true.” “I haven’t even fucked you yet, so don’t you think that’s a little premature?” I asked. “That will happen as soon as we get home,” he said, winking at me, and then he went out into the main cabin. I followed him, but he’d gotten me so horny, it was all I could do to make myself interact normally with everyone. We said little in the car on the way home, and once we got to Escorial, I snuck in through the back entry and led him in a roundabout route to my room, one that avoided everyone. “Made it,” I said, even as I locked the door behind us. “You’ve obviously done this before,” Jake said. “What?” “Snuck men into your room,” he said. “None as exciting as you,” I said. I kissed him again, and this time, neither one of us broke it off. We connected with our mouths so beautifully, it was surreal. Then almost instinctively we separated and took off our clothes in a slow, deliberate way, while totally focusing our eyes on each other. I got to take in his amazing chest, his washboard abs, his dick that wasn’t hard but was plumping, and his sexy legs. I pulled down my pants, then my underwear, and stood in front of him nervously, as if on display, even as my cock stuck straight out in front of me. “Holy shit,” he said, as he stared at my big cock, making me chuckle. “Dude, this is like a dream come true.” “We’ll see if you think that when I’m fucking you,” I said in a sultry way. He walked up to me and dropped to his knees, all but inhaling me with his mouth, and that was pretty awesome, because most guys couldn’t suck a dick as big as mine without letting me feel some teeth. Not Jake. He had this down. I pulled him up and led him to the bed, and guided us into a 69 position with me on my back, and him on top. I felt his mouth return to my cock and moaned, and then I dove into that perfect, muscular ass of his. I licked and probed him first with my tongue, then with a finger, and then I added some lube and pushed two fingers in. It’s as if that was his signal to move things forward. He took the lube from me and slathered some on my cock, then rotated himself so he was kneeling over me. In an incredibly slow and sexy way, he lowered himself down onto me. I felt my dick pressing against his hole, felt the resistance, and then with a slight ‘pop’, it was through. His ass absorbed me, and it was amazing. I thought about all the guys I’d been with, all the guys I’d topped, but none of them was like Jake. None of them could handle me so well, well enough to fully enjoy me, while still having a muscular enough ass to truly make it not just feel good, but to make it fun. He had some endurance, and I was worried that I’d get off long before him, but he expertly worked to help us make it last. Finally, in what was one of my more amazing orgasms, we came together, and after we were done panting, he pulled me to his chest and gently stroked my hair. I felt safe, I felt loved, and I felt satisfied in a way that I hadn’t felt since Robbie had died. September 14, 2003 Escorial, CA Will I heard my alarm clock go off, and smacked it a little too hard, so annoyed was I that I had to get up. My violent effort didn’t work, since I’d missed the button to turn it off and it kept blaring at me. Since it was 5:30, I hit the snooze button instead, luxuriating in lounging in bed and doing nothing for nine minutes until it went off again. I got up and took a shower, letting the water wake me up and revitalize me. Since it was my birthday, and after all the shit we’d dealt with in Virginia, I figured this would probably be a big-deal dinner, so I spent some time working on my hair, and I dressed nicely for a typical Sunday dinner at Escorial. I opted for the classic look, with gray slacks with a blue blazer, and decided to skip the tie since I’d done my hair in a more relaxed way. I smiled at my reflection in the mirror, at how that casual touch made me look so much better. When we’d gone to those events in New York, I’d had my hair gelled firmly into shape in a more slicked back look; but today I’d put in just enough product to keep it from going completely out of control, and it was so much more ‘me’. I walked up to the dining room and there were a lot of places set up. Since it was a big crowd, I figured there would be names indicating where people were sitting, and that was indeed the case. I walked around the table, and there were about four names I didn’t recognize, which was just a little confusing. I shrugged, and since I was early, I went out onto the courtyard. There was a staff member waiting to make me a drink, and there were several hot guys there, and that sparked my memory and explained those strange names. I’d forgotten that this was the time of year when we usually housed hockey players who were in town early for practices. They were all dressed nicely, wearing what they’d call their “rink gear”, clothes they’d wear when they were playing a game. “Hey!” Gathan said, and came over to give me a big hug. “Happy birthday!” “Thanks,” I said. “It’s good to see you! You brought friends with you.” Chris Kilpatrick, this guy who everyone called Klip, had walked up right behind Gathan. “I don’t know if you’d call us friends,” Klip joked as he pointed at Gathan. He shook my hand, but I frowned at him and stared at our hands, making him roll his eyes and give me a hug. “Happy birthday!” “I want you for my present,” I joked, even though I’d jump on this guy any day: he was a total god. I’d always thought he could easily model and I was right. On our trip to New York, JJ had shown me the latest Abercrombie and Fitch ad. There was this new young model in there, a guy named Trevor Donovan, who could be a dead ringer for Klip. “It’s probably time you learn you can’t always get what you want,” he said, cracking me up. “This is my little brother, Dillon.” I changed my focus to this guy who was with him, and just about shit a brick: this dude was amazingly hot. He looked like Klip, with the same basic facial features, and the same blue eyes, only his blond hair had a slightly redder tinge to it. I cringed internally when I thought it was close to the same shade as Buzz Dalby’s had been. I glanced at his left eye and noticed the black ring around it, the mark of someone who had probably gotten into a fight and had a shiner as a result. Dillon had a lithe, fit body as opposed to Klip, who was a lot bigger now that he was older. I searched my memory banks for visions of Klip as a freshman, and Dillon was pretty much like that. I grinned internally when I thought having both of them there in front of me gave me a prime idea of what Dillon would look like in a few years. Dillon was a few inches shorter than me, so probably about six feet tall. He was wearing a suit that was kind of tacky, and didn’t fit him very well. Not only that, it was some weird shade of brown that was pretty awful. I’d been staring at him, saying nothing as I’d totally checked him out, and that had made him nervous and embarrassed me. “Nice to meet you,” I said awkwardly, and shook his hand. It was weird, because when our hands connected, I could almost feel energy flowing between us. “Nice to meet you too,” he said shyly, looking down. Then he looked up, and our eyes met even as we were shaking hands, and the connection between us got really intense. He looked away, and I opted to bring in some humor to try and hide my embarrassment over how lame I was acting with this guy. “Dude, you do not look little,” I said to Dillon with a smile, making him chuckle. “I’m not,” he said, raising his eyebrow to flirt with me. His voice was so deep and melodic it was almost intoxicating. I love deep voices, and when this guy spoke, he just about turned me into a lusting pool of Jell-O. His blue eyes sparkled as he talked to me, but his most attractive feature was his mouth. It almost looked like he’d gotten a few collagen injections because his lips were a bit puffy, but that was because they looked like they were almost at a 45 degree angle to his face, and that gave the impression that they were big. They were almost pointy where they intercepted his face, and when they were relaxed, they opened slightly, exposing a glimpse of his two front teeth. His teeth were straight, but there was a slightly larger than normal gap between them. I thought that made him seem genuine, so even though he had these beautiful features, that slight imperfection in his teeth announced that this was not a surgically generated face. “Come say hi to the rest of the guys,” Gathan said, being a good host, but cock blocking me. I wanted to stay and talk to this guy, but Gathan had killed the mood. I wandered around with Gathan and greeted the other guys; most of whom I’d met, and took some time to chat with the two freshmen that were new to me. They were so funny, the way they were all nervous and freaking out, but that’s how the players had been every year the first time they’d been to Escorial. I got that. I knew this was a big house and that this could be intimidating to them. I put on my most charming façade and did what I could to help them relax, but even as I’d talked to everyone else, I’d found my eyes constantly going back to Dillon, and most of the time I looked at him, he was looking at me.
  15. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 12

    August 1800 HMS Valiant Off Hellebæk, Denmark His Britannic Majesty’s Ship Valiant approached the Danish port confidently, a white flag flying above her Union Flag. That confidence was reinforced by the intelligence they’d gathered from Guebertin, and the resulting suspicion that despite their outrage, the Danes were in no position to spark a conflict with Britain. “The Danes have not acknowledged our request for a truce, my lord,” Weston said. The Danish flag flew from the fort guarding the harbor in a jaunty way, and there was clearly no white flag above it. If the British were confident, the Danes seemed almost defiant. “Gentlemen, I am hoping you have packed up your things,” Granger said to his passengers. “Mr. Weston, beat to quarters. We have ample time, so you may do so in an organized way.” Granger’s last sentence was designed to help them avoid the chaos that a frenetic pace in clearing for action would cause, and an effort on Granger’s behalf to save Winkler from some of the resulting confusion. “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said, and within seconds, the Marine drummer began pounding out “Hearts of Oak,” and that was followed by the various bangs and thuds as all of Valiant’s internal bulkheads were torn down and all of her furnishings were stored below. Then there were the more obvious efforts, like rigging a net above the deck to prevent spars from falling onto the men below. Their efforts would be visible to prying telescopes from the shore, and there would be no mistaking what it meant. “Ship cleared for action,” Weston reported, slightly over a quarter of an hour later. “Excellent, Mr. Weston. I’ll have the guns loaded and run out on both the larboard and starboard sides,” Granger said. That was a very unusual way to enter port. “You are trying to intimidate the Danes?” Whitworth asked him. “I am,” Granger said. “We will see if it works.” Granger was hoping Whitworth would give him some guidance, but he found the crusty old diplomat to be less than forthcoming. In this case, since he had a strong hand, there was no reason not to play it. “My lord, the Danes have raised a parley flag,” Weston informed him. All eyes focused on the Danish flagpole, where a white flag now flew above Danish colors. “It seems that did the trick,” Whitworth said. “I will probably need a boat to take me ashore.” “Boat pushing off from the pier, my lord,” Weston said. “Heave to,” Granger ordered. There was no need to anchor in these calm seas, and it would make leaving just that much easier. “Your predictions appear to be off today,” Cavendish said to Whitworth in a smarmy way. “Presumably you’d do better if we were in Russia.” “Presumably,” Whitworth said, glaring at Cavendish, while Granger and Daventry hid their smirks. Cavendish didn’t miss a chance to bait Whitworth, and now that the young man had largely restored his confidence and wit, he all but ran circles around the old diplomat. Granger pondered that Whitworth had set the tone of their relationship from the beginning, so now he would have to live with the results. “I plan to join Lord Whitworth in Copenhagen,” Daventry told Granger. “I think I will join him as well,” Cavendish said. Whitworth was considerably annoyed that neither one of those men bothered to ask his permission or input, but he wisely said nothing. “I think it is important for me to deliver my dispatches, along with the news that you gentlemen have arrived in Denmark, to Admiral Dickson,” Granger noted. “I would recommend that you do that, and then plan to return here as soon as possible,” Daventry said. “I will either be here to meet you so we may continue our voyage, or I will leave instructions for you.” “Hopefully we will not have to dally here too long,” Granger said. He was mindful of the coming winter, even though there was no sign of that here, where it was warm and muggy. “We will not,” Daventry said. “Looks to be a lieutenant in the boat, sir,” Kingsdale said. A simple nod to Weston was all that was required for him to attend to receiving the visitor. The boat was hailed, and then in short order a handsome young lieutenant hoisted himself aboard. “Welcome,” Granger said, stepping forward and extending his hand, which the young man took in a friendly way. “I am Captain Viscount Granger, commanding His Britannic Majesty’s Ship Valiant.” Granger had said his words in French, which made the young man smile. He responded in excellent, if accented, English. “It is a pleasure to meet a sailor of such renown, my lord,” he said. “I am Lieutenant van Hjelmeland, of His Danish Majesty’s navy.” “I have brought some esteemed gentlemen to meet with your government,” Granger said, introducing Whitworth, Daventry, and Cavendish. The introductions took some time, of course, but when they were over, van Hjelmeland generously offered to take the three British aristocrats to Copenhagen. While they were loading their various trunks into the Danish boat, Granger pulled Cavendish aside. “I am going to miss having you here.” “The last few days have been magical, just as you had predicted,” Cavendish said. They had managed to heal the wounds that had separated them, but more importantly, Cavendish had seemed to find himself, and regain his confidence. “I think it is probably best for me to accompany Whitworth.” “I understand,” Granger said, “even if I don’t like it.” “It was not my first choice either,” Cavendish said. “Thank you so much for helping me.” “I think it was you who helped yourself,” Granger said. “And we both know that isn’t true,” Cavendish said. “I suspect that I will remain here with Whitworth and then return with him to England. I hope that you will allow that to satisfy my prison sentence.” Granger chuckled. “Consider yourself duly released from your jail cell. I have written a lengthy letter to Caroline, which I will send back with our dispatches. You will be welcome at our home when you return.” “Thank you, George, for giving me options, and a place to land,” Cavendish said sincerely. He noticed that Daventry and Whitworth were getting ready to disembark, so they took their leave of each other and went to join the others. “Good luck, gentlemen,” Granger said. And then they went over the side, the boat shoved off, and Valiant felt strangely empty, at least as far as Granger was concerned. “Mr. Weston, let’s get underway. Lay in a course due north. We will rendezvous with Admiral Dickson off Kullen.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. “You may return the ship to her normal state as soon as practical,” Granger said. August 1800 HMS Valiant Off Kullen, Sweden “Sail ho!” cried the lookout, pulling Granger from his thoughts. They’d been here off the Swedish coast for only three days, and he’d spent most of that time drafting letters and reports. It had also given him time to get into a rhythm of sorts with his ship and his officers now that he wasn’t encumbered with three influential passengers. “The entrance to the Sound, and he sights a bloody sail,” Meurice grumbled. “A blind man could guess that.” Granger chuckled, then hailed the tops. “What do you make of it?” “Several ships, and looks as if some of them are ships of the line, my lord!” the lookout responded. “I will be aloft, gentlemen,” Granger said. He was fairly certain these would be British ships, but it was prudent to make sure of that fact lest he be pinned by a hostile fleet against an equally hostile coast. He climbed up the mizzenmast to the mizzen top and pulled out his glass, scanning in the direction the lookout gestured. “I think that lead ship is the Romney, my lord,” he offered. “I do believe you are correct,” Granger agreed. “If I am not mistaken, that is the Monarch flying an Admiral’s flag.” “I think you’re right, begging your pardon, my lord,” he agreed. “Keep me informed,” Granger ordered, then grabbed a backstay and agilely descended to the deck. “It would appear that Admiral Dickson’s fleet has found us. I estimate seven ships of the line and several other vessels.” “That should get the Danes to pay attention, my lord,” Grenfell opined. “We will hope that is the case,” Granger said. Hearing Grenfell talk reminded him to look at the closest carronade, and he noted that they were fitted with Grenfell’s newfangled gunsight. “I see you have managed to modify the quarterdeck carronades.” “Yes, my lord,” Grenfell said with a grin. “We have only to calibrate them.” They’d performed some tests using Grenfell’s new gunsight, using the smashers, and they’d performed very well. The prior sites had caused the guns to be aimed too low, something Granger had noticed when they’d been in combat with the Turks off Oran. The next time they fired the smasher, the aim would be much better. “We will wait until we’re away from the fleet, lest we have to answer questions about our use of powder and shot while not in combat,” Granger said jovially. The Admiralty refused to allow ships to practice firing the guns, and that meant gun drill was an exercise in loading and running them out, only to unload them and repeat the process. Granger paid to stock in some extra powder for practice, but he wasn’t about to use it while under Dickson’s critical eye. “I will be in my cabin.” He strode past the marine and into his cabin, which was configured much as it had been, only this time the spaces that Cavendish and Whitworth had occupied would serve as an office for him and Daventry. “I’ve got your uniform laid out here, my lord,” Winkler said. “Thank you,” Granger said, and hastily put on his dress uniform, determined to cut a good figure, even if Dickson’s wardrobe was deficient. Llewellyn entered the cabin just as he was finishing tying his cravat. “My lord, Flag has signaled you to report aboard.” “Acknowledge, and have my gig swung out,” Granger ordered. He finished getting ready, then strode out onto the deck to survey the ships that were approaching. To Granger’s mind, they were a rag-tag lot. They consisted of one 74-gun ship of the line, the Monarch, which flew the Admiral’s flag. In addition, there were three 64-gun ships (Polyphemus, Ardent, and Veteran), two 50-gun ships (Romney and Isis), and the 56-gun Glatton. With the exception of Monarch, they were all outdated, designed to fight in the prior war. “Gig’s alongside, my lord,” Weston prompted. “I’ll be aboard the flagship,” Granger said. He took his satchel and descended into his gig; a quick nod to Jacobs was all it took to spirit the gig toward Monarch. Granger studied the ships closely as they passed them. Polyphemus and Veteran were interesting, in that they were 64’s and looked similar to what Valiant had once been, even though she was built to a different design. Ardent and Glatton were the most ungainly, having started their lives as ships designed for service with the Honorable East India Company, then hastily converted from merchantmen into battleships. They were notoriously ungainly and unhandy ships. Granger fancied that they were the two-decked equivalent of the horrible 2nd rates like Glory and Namur. Romney and Isis were similar to Leander, ships that were two big and old to catch a modern frigate, and too small to match forces with a modern ship of the line. Granger decided that if the Danes were intimidated by this group of ships, their defenses must indeed be seriously decayed. The gig pulled alongside Monarch, and Granger smiled at the worn but sturdy sides of this old veteran. She’d seen plenty of action in the American Wars, and plenty of action in this current conflict. She was some 35 years old, but still seemed solid and powerful, especially compared to her consorts. Granger pulled himself through her entry port and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by her captain. “I’m Captain James Mosse, my lord. It is a pleasure to meet you,” he said in a friendly manner. “The pleasure is mine,” Granger said, and shook his hand. He was an older man, some 55 years old, but gave off the impression of a bulldog, of a captain who was anxious to get into a fight and would not let go until he won. “The Admiral is waiting for you,” he said, and led Granger back to the Admiral’s cabin. It was decorated in a relatively mundane way, with only a few luxuries. It was utilitarian in a masculine way, with no flourishes or decorations to make it more appealing. The overall impression was that it was the cabin of an old sailor, which was appropriate. Unfortunately, the thing Granger noticed most wasn’t the cabin, but it was the body odor that seemed to emanate from Dickson in a most prodigious way. In a ship at sea, such smells were common and unpleasant, so for Dickson to manage to overcome that basic noxious level of fumes required a special level of stench. “Welcome, my lord,” Dickson said, although he didn’t sound overly friendly. “Thank you, sir,” Granger said. “I dropped Lords Whitworth, Daventry, and Cavendish off in Helleboek three days back, and a Danish lieutenant agreed to take them to Copenhagen.” He handed Dickson his report. “Did Whitworth mention what he wanted of me?” Dickson asked. “He drafted a letter for you, which is in that packet,” Granger said. “He directed me to meet you here, then to return to Helleboek to seek further instructions.” Dickson glared at Granger for omitting the obligatory ‘sir’ when talking to him, but Granger had noted that Dickson had been equally rude in omitting the ‘my lord’ when talking to him, and he was not about to stomach any nonsense from this old admiral. “Well then, let us see what he has to say,” Dickson said. “Have a seat, my lord.” “Thank you, sir,” Granger said, and sat down. He stared ahead, even though his eyes were on Dickson, as the man read his various letters. Granger recognized that he’d opened up his own report, and wasn’t surprised to see Dickson’s eyes narrow considerably. “You had this French ship, Corneille, clearly in your sights, and could have easily captured her, but you chose not to?” Dickson demanded, outraged. “I did,” Granger responded. “We are at war with France, my lord, and have express orders to capture ships from that country,” Dickson said in an almost sarcastic way. “I am familiar with the Corneille and her captain, sir, and was confident that we would gain more from not capturing that ship than if we did,” Granger said. “That is the decision you made? You made that decision, despite standing orders to the contrary?” Dickson demanded. “I did,” Granger confirmed. “I am most displeased with your lack of zeal as regards our enemies, my lord,” Dickson said. “I will expect you to be more aggressive when you next encounter a foe.” Granger fumed at this, and was quite aware that Dickson was approaching a dangerous point, a point where he was actually accusing Granger of cowardice. “I have executed my orders as given to me by Lords Spencer and Daventry, sir. I am sorry you do not concur with those two gentlemen.” The admiral’s eyes bulged, so furious was he. “You have boats all but dangling from the sides of your ship. What madness is that?” He was clearly changing tacks, trying to think of different ways to cause Granger problems. “Those are boat davits, and they are designed to provide more room on deck,” Granger replied coolly. “They are quite effective.” “What happens when you are hit with a gale, and all your boats are swept away?” he asked, although it was more of a snarl. “The boats are quite secure,” Granger said calmly. “I would think that the results speak for themselves. I have been using them for some time, including during my trip around Cape Horn, and have yet to lose one.” “Are they approved by the dockyard?” he asked in a very smarmy way. He was well aware that the dockyards were dominated by old men, men like him, who were opposed to change at almost any level. “No, they are not. I have been given special leave by Lord Spencer to experiment with them, with orders to report back on their effectiveness,” Granger replied. “If you can produce those orders, you can retain them, otherwise, you will remove them at once,” Dickson said. “Admiral, I have told you that I have orders from Lord Spencer, and if that is not sufficient for you, than you will have to remove me from command of Valiant and remove them yourself,” Granger said firmly. “Are you challenging me and my authority, Granger?” he demanded, almost shouting. He clearly expected Granger to back down in the face of his outburst. He would be surprised. “I am, Admiral,” Granger said. “I would have thought our mission and our roles were clearly laid out when we were in London. I will not be bullied and harassed by you.” “Your actions here, your words, amount to gross insubordination!” Dickson exclaimed. “Then you are welcome to arrest me and send me back to London,” Granger said confidently. “I am sure that will give me ample time to make sure you have a most excellent reception waiting for you when you eventually return.” “Now listen here you young…” Granger interrupted him. “The only reason that Valiant was allowed to function under your nominal control was to provide you with a share of prize money should we capture any ships,” Granger said coldly. “And while I was willing to tolerate that, I am not willing to be browbeaten just to satisfy your greed. I have my orders, Admiral, and I will execute them as given. Any interference from you risks intervention at the highest levels of the government.” “That does not change the fact that you are still under my orders,” Dickson asserted. “You are free to interpret things as you choose, Admiral,” Granger said coldly, even as he stood up slowly. “In the meantime, I have orders to return to Helleboek, and to continue my mission into the Baltic. If you have dispatches for me, I would appreciate it if you would give those to me.” Granger just stared at the man boldly, waiting for him to acquiesce. “You can get your mail and dispatches from Captain Mosse,” Dickson snarled. He had been foolish to pick a fight with Granger, a battle he was destined to lose, and had relied on the time-honored formula of discipline above all else to carry the day. That may have worked with an older, less-intelligent, or less well-connected officer, but it was of no use when dealing with Granger. “Thank you, Admiral,” Granger said politely. “As soon as I review them, I will sail for Helleboek.” Granger said. He didn’t wait for a response; he simply strode out of the cabin and was fortunate to find Dickson’s flag lieutenant waiting for him. Based on the man’s shocked and awed expression, it was easy to deduce that he must have been eavesdropping on their conversation. “Your mail has already been put in your gig, my lord,” he said politely. “Here are you dispatches.” “Thank you,” Granger said in a friendly way. He left Monarch and boarded his gig. “Back to the ship,” he said to Jacobs crisply. “Put your backs into it,” he said more loudly, to the crew of his gig. They obliged him, and got him back to Valiant in remarkably fast time. “Welcome back, my lord,” Weston said pleasantly. Granger forced himself to mimic Weston’s mood. “Thank you, Mr. Weston. There is mail in the gig, which you can distribute after we are underway.” “Aye aye, my lord,” he said promptly. “Set a course for Hellebæk,” Granger ordered. The other officers were a bit surprised that he didn’t signal the flag requesting permission to proceed, which was a very public snub directed at Dickson, but Granger decided that was preferable to asking for permission, having it denied, and thus being forced to sail anyway. Only after he made sure that Valiant was on the right course and away from the fleet did Granger excuse himself and retire to his cabin to read his letters and dispatches. The first letter was on Royal stationary, and upon opening it Granger discovered it was from the Lord Steward of the Household, the Earl of Leicester. The Lord Steward was the man responsible for overseeing the Comptroller of the Household, which made him Cavendish’s most immediate boss. It was a simple note telling him that while the King approved of his actions following the duel at Windsor, he was ordered to return Lord Frederick Cavendish to England at his earliest possible convenience. That didn’t overly surprise Granger, as he had fully expected the King to demand that Cavendish be released, but he had been nervous that the King would be angry with him for all but kidnapping Cavendish. Leicester’s letter made Granger guardedly optimistic that the King was not vexed with him. The next letter was from his father, who more or less corroborated Granger’s conclusion. He said that the King had been furious that a duel would be fought on his own property, and that it had negatively affected his health. Granger took that to mean that the King’s sanity had been worsened by the whole affair, something he felt quite bad about. He opened Caroline’s letter, and found himself smiling at having this link to her. He was so much happier, and so much more balanced, now that he was back on good terms with his formidable wife. Portland Place, London Dearest George, You have been gone but a brief time, but I already miss you terribly. The children are all doing well, and asking about you seems to be the one topic most on their minds. Your safe return occupies all of our minds, first and foremost. Lord Spencer informed me that he was sending you dispatches, and he offered to include my letter, so I am being more candid than I otherwise would be. Mr. Barnett is almost apoplectic over having his son sent to India, and has vowed to others, so I have heard, to extract painful revenge upon you. I would not worry overmuch about that. I have had discussions with friends of the Guild and expressed my extreme displeasure over their attempt to deprive Cavendish of his life. As I mentioned to you, I have painted that as the initial act of aggression, one that risked reviving the open conflict we have fought with that group of merchants who would give themselves such airs. In the end, they decided that they do not see this as a matter that involves them, and in fact, they have refused to intercede on Mr. Barnett’s behalf. It would appear that our informal détente with them still stands. Meanwhile, Mr. Barnett has hired a fast sloop to attempt to intercept the Psyche. Lord Brookstone was in town briefly, and I had occasion to talk to him of this matter. He told me that Psyche is known to be a fast frigate, and that in any event, the winds have been quite foul for a pursuit. They were unable to extract a Royal Order to release Mr. Barnett’s son, so even if the sloop finds them, Brookstone thinks it unlikely that Captain Preston will free him into their custody. It is all quite dramatic, but has had little effect beyond the fact that it has evolved like a good play on Drury Lane. Based on those being currently performed, this affair is much more interesting. The issue with the King has gone less well, so much that I am almost reluctant to tell you what I have heard. I am confident that you will ultimately see the truth behind the matter, and will not spend excessive time flagellating yourself. Evidently when His Majesty received your letter and learned of the duel, he became quite agitated, so much that he had to be restrained. His outburst became so violent that he lashed out at Her Majesty. Since then, The Queen has become so afraid for her safety she has refused to be alone with him. They were able to calm him, but that is a temporary state, or so I am led to believe. I learned much of this from your father, who stressed that this is most definitely not your fault, something I must emphasize, even though I know you will let the guilt envelop you. His Majesty was not well before this happened, and such a trigger was most likely inevitable. Your father, in concert with Lord Salisbury, believes that all of the King’s problems have, as their root cause, his absolute and total opposition to Catholic Emancipation. There is talk that when the Union goes into effect at the beginning of next year, there is sure to be a considerable battle between the King and Mr. Pitt over the Catholics, and I cannot see, based on how deeply the King feels his duty to the Church, that he will permit any accommodation to the Papists. In that case, we may very well see a change in the government, and I am wont to see how such a change would benefit us. When you talk to Cavendish, please give him my warmest regards. I am most concerned for him, as I cannot even begin to guess what kind of reception he will get when he next sees the King. His father refuses to even speak of him, so whatever happens, he will have no aid from that quarter. Please let him know that I stand ready to help him through the storm he may return to, and I have had occasion to talk to Arthur about this, and have secured his pledge to support Cavendish as well. With love from your devoted wife, Caroline Granger read the letter again, and compared it to the sterile communiqués he’d gotten from his father and Leicester. He did not hold that against those two gentlemen, since communicating without a private messenger was fraught with risk, but even their bald statements conveyed enough to corroborate Caroline’s assertions, not that Granger would have questioned them anyway. A knock on his door presaged the arrival of Midshipman Travers. Granger paused to admire the young man, who was maturing at a remarkably fast rate. “My lord, Mr. Weston’s respects and it is almost sunset,” he said. The nervousness and uncertainty he’d been enveloped with when he’d first come aboard had vanished, replaced by this officer who was growing in confidence daily. “Thank you, Mr. Travers,” Granger said, even as he stood up. “I think I will go admire this celestial phenomenon you have conjured up.” Travers smiled and followed his captain onto the quarterdeck, where the sun was just starting to dip below the horizon. “A beautiful sunset tonight, my lord,” Weston said cheerfully. “It is indeed, Mr. Weston,” Granger said, as he scanned their environs. “What is our position?” “We believe Helleboek is just below the horizon, my lord,” he said. There was no reason to press on at night, since they could not arrive at that port until morning anyway. “Heave to,” Granger ordered. “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said, and turned to attend to that. While Valiant turned herself into the wind and hovered, as it were, waiting until morning when she could continue her voyage, her captain began to pace her lengthy quarterdeck. It was at times like these that Granger appreciated her size, and the fact that she had the quarterdeck of a ship of the line and not a frigate. It made pacing that much more satisfying when he could stride for a longer distance. Granger let his mind wander back to the letter he’d gotten from Caroline, and just as she’d predicted, he let the guilt overwhelm him. He had viewed the King as a sort of father figure, and truly cared about his eccentric monarch. Hosting Their Majesties aboard Valiant and spending time with them at Windsor had made Granger feel that connection even more. He would not admit it, less he be accused of being presumptuous, but he had almost felt as if he were part of the King’s extended family. To then see this man whom he idolized reduced to a state of mental incapacity, and to know that it was his letter which sparked that decline, was truly disturbing. Granger walked on, letting thoughts about this torture him, until he remembered the rest of Caroline’s letter, and used that to pull himself out of the depressed state he’d worked himself into. His letter may have been the trigger that sparked this latest outburst, but as she noted, it was his agonizing over Catholic Emancipation that was at the bottom of the problem. He smiled broadly when he remembered her last paragraph where she’d pledged to help Cavendish. She’d done that even before she’d gotten his latest letter telling her he’d invited Cavendish to reside at their home in Portland Place, and begging her to help him survive the challenges he’d face when he got back to England. She’d even gone so far as to enlist the help of Arthur Teasdale, and would presumably impose upon their other friends to do the same. Lord Spencer was quite fond of Cavendish, and had all but made him his protégé. Cavendish may not have his father in his corner, but he had a lot of other powerful allies who were there to watch out for him.
  16. Alright Californios, where would Will, JJ, and Darius hang out in 2000, noting that they live in Malibu? What about John and Marie, in Paly?
  17. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 11

    August 1800 HMS Valiant The North Sea It had been three days since they’d left London, and their progress had been maddeningly slow. Granger walked out onto the quarterdeck a quarter of an hour before dawn, even as the men were roused and sent to quarters. As was required in all Royal Navy ships, that is how they met each dawn, with the crew at the guns, waiting to go into action if necessary. “We are all but becalmed, my lord,” Weston said, and was so annoyed it pierced through his normally cheerful demeanor. “I will remind you of this moment when we are facing a true gale,” Granger teased, making both of the chuckle. “I take your point, my lord,” Weston said. They stood on the quarterdeck waiting for dawn, while their passengers stayed in their cabins, presumably still sleeping. Granger winced at the thought of them, and how he hadn’t had a meaningful conversation with Cavendish since their talk after they sailed. Granger decided that this wouldn’t be nearly as bad if it weren’t for his relationship with Francis Calvert. Calvert had sworn that he’d loved Granger, and then jilted Granger for Gatling. Despite their efforts to heal the wound that had caused, Granger still felt some residual resentment at Calvert for so blithely discarding him. Yet here was Cavendish, doing the same thing. He’d professed his love for Granger, he’d written Granger a letter pleading for help, and then he’d ignored Granger when Granger had returned home. Instead, he’d been tearing off after John Ward like a dog in heat, leaving Granger once again feeling like a consolation prize, a poor reward in the game of love. Granger realized that this train of thought had considerably soured his mood, and that realization just made things even worse. He was about to look for something to distract himself when the lookout obliged him. “Sail ho! Close in off the starboard bow!” the lookout in the maintop shouted. Granger strode over to the starboard side and gazed off in the darkness with Weston close by his side. “What is she?” Granger called. “Too dark to tell, my lord,” the man responded. “Deck there, brig off the starboard bow,” came the cry from the foretopmast. “Shall we clear for action, my lord?” Weston asked. He was clearly anxious to get Valiant into fighting condition, but he was ignoring the considerable inconvenience that would cause them and their passengers. “Let us wait until we know who this brig is,” Granger said with a confidence that wasn’t faked. A brig could cause them no real problems in seas like this, where they were all but becalmed. Even if she were loaded with men, they’d have plenty of time to manage the threat. “I think I see her, sir,” Kingsdale said, pointing out at the blackness. Granger squinted his eyes and began to see the shape of the ship emerging. “Looks to be a merchie,” Weston commented, mostly to himself. “Looks to be French, my lord.” That was said with more animation, showing excitement at maybe taking a prize. Granger was about to begin detailing a boarding party when the sky seemed to get exponentially brighter, light enough for him to clearly see this brig. She was indeed French, and she was quite close to them, about a cable’s length away. Granger smiled as he studied her rigging, and smiled even bigger when he saw her captain panicking as he managed to emerge from darkness next to a British man-of-war. “Mr. Weston, please raise our colors under a white flag.” “My lord?” Weston asked curiously. Granger glared at him, demanding that his orders be immediately obeyed. “Aye aye, my lord,” he said briskly. “Please have my gig lowered,” Granger ordered. “That ship is the Corneille, the vessel that conveyed me back to England on parole.” “An interesting coincidence,” Daventry said. He had managed to come on the deck without Granger even noticing him. “It is indeed,” Granger said, responding to Daventry. “Mr. Kingsdale, I would be obliged if you would take my gig over to Corneille and ask Captain Guebertin to return with you and join me for breakfast,” Granger ordered. “Aye aye, sir,” Kingsdale said. “Couldn’t you have captured her just as easily?” Daventry asked Granger. The two of them moved away so no one could overhear their conversation. “We could indeed, but if Corneille is this far north, she may have information about the Baltic. I would submit that would be more valuable than taking her as a prize,” Granger said. “Besides, it seems a bit dastardly to capture the ship and the captain who conveyed you home,” Daventry said with a smile, getting that there was a certain level of honor on the line for Granger. “It does,” Granger agreed. Cavendish walked up and joined them. “I try to be a good friend, even when others do not return my bonafides,” Granger said to Daventry, but it was as much an arrow at Cavendish. Granger regretted his words immediately, but they had been spoken, so there wasn’t much to be done about it. “I’m sure that’s quite noble of you,” Daventry said. Cavendish gave him an unpleasant look and walked over to converse with Weston. Granger was trying not to be vexed with Cavendish, but it was difficult. They had conversed politely at dinner and supper, and occasionally on deck, but their words were shallow. His presence aboard in this new state, where he was pouting and it seemed as if their friendship was destroyed, was irking Granger, who bore him no small amount of resentment for ruining what could be a truly wonderful time for both of them. Granger was distracted as Guebertin hauled himself through the entry port. “My lord!” he exclaimed in a friendly and exuberant way. “What a pleasure to see you!” He embraced the Frenchman in the continental fashion, kissing both of his cheeks. “I am so glad our paths meet again, Capitan,” Granger said affably. “Won’t you join me for breakfast?” “I would be delighted, my lord,” he said. There were some kegs being hauled aboard. “I have brought you a gift, some wine I had brought with me from France.” “I must thank you,” Granger said, bowing in a courtly way. “French wine is truly something we have missed during these war years.” He led Guebertin back to his cabin. “It is the least I could do, my lord, to thank you for not capturing me,” he said. “It seemed to be the height of rudeness to seize you and your vessel after you conveyed me home,” Granger joked. “Please allow me to introduce you to my travelling companions.” Granger introduced Guebertin to Daventry, Whitworth, and Cavendish. Guebertin took his seat and seemed a bit intimidated by all of this esteemed company. “I am not sure if you have heard of our new government in France, my lord,” Guebertin said. “I had occasion to hear of the Consulate when I was last in the Mediterranean,” Granger said. “Have there been more recent changes?” “They say that during the plebiscite, 99.9% of voters approved the new government and the installation of Bonaparte as First Consul,” Guebertin noted wryly. “I am wondering who the few were who did not vote for it, and I am wondering if they are still alive.” They all laughed at that. “That would take a brave soul,” Daventry opined. “General Bonaparte won a great victory over the Austrians in June, at a place called Marengo,” he said. Granger could almost sense the exasperation of his colleagues, a frustration that matched his own. Could Bonaparte not be beaten? Why were Austrian armies seemingly so ineffective? “I am sure that Paris is much happier about that than Vienna,” Granger joked. “Undoubtedly,” Whitworth echoed. “I am no politician, but I hear things,” Guebertin said in a sly way. “General Bonaparte has returned to Paris, and he is consolidating his power. I am under the impression that your friend, Monsieur de Talleyrand, is assisting him quite ably.” “I suspect that Monsieur de Talleyrand has as one of his objectives the sidelining of Monsieur Sieyes,” Granger said. Talleyrand’s distaste for Sieyes was no secret. “Of that, there is no question,” Guebertin agreed. “I must say that I am surprised to find you so far north,” Granger said. “I would not expect this to be a normal trade route.” Guebertin shrugged his shoulders. “I was tasked to take dispatches and an emissary to Copenhagen.” “I hope it was lucrative,” Granger said. “The government paid me a pittance, and while I was supposed to be able to trade as well, I was unable to do that profitably,” Guebertin groused. “But if I did not do as they commanded, I would face a fate similar to those who voted against Bonaparte.” They laughed. “So how were things in Copenhagen?” Whitworth asked. “They are very angry at you British,” Guebertin said with a grin. “That is something we already knew,” Whitworth said sadly. “They expect you to attack them, so they are clearly getting ready to defend themselves,” Guebertin said. “Unfortunately for the Danes, that is not saying much.” “No?” Granger asked. “Their fortresses are dilapidated, their ships are rotting and unmanned, and their army is but a shadow of what it should be,” he said, shaking his head. “They are like an opera singer with no voice.” “I suspect that they will ultimately remedy that problem,” Whitworth speculated. “They have a large fleet,” Granger said, trying to prompt Guebertin. “Yet their plan is not to use it,” Guebertin responded. “At least that is what I heard.” “They aren’t going to use their fleet?” Granger asked, stunned. “If Copenhagen is attacked by your naval forces, the fleet will be locked away in the inner harbor, and they will use the forts and floating batteries to defend themselves,” Guebertin informed them. “That way, the fleet is preserved, while presumably we will blunt and bloody our own forces with an attack on worthless barges,” Granger concluded. “It would seem that if our fleet is too bloodied, that Danish fleet in being could represent a significant hazard,” Cavendish noted. That was a real fear, that after British forces attacked the Danes and won a victory over floating batteries, the Danish fleet would sortie and attack the damaged British ships. “Based on what I saw, I cannot believe that even then they would be much of a problem,” Guebertin said, but Granger wasn’t convinced. “We have an institutional memory of Danish warriors, so we are prone to be cautious,” Whitworth said, referring to the days of the Vikings. “In any event, we would much rather be ending our wars than starting new ones,” Granger said with a smile. “Hopefully that will find a welcome reception in Paris, my lord,” Guebertin said. They finished their breakfast, even as they plied details from Guebertin about Paris and Copenhagen. Granger excused himself briefly to dash off a brief letter to Talleyrand, then gave that to Guebertin and ushered him over the side into the boat that would return him to Corneille. Luckily enough, the wind picked up enough to separate the two ships after that. Granger spent time on deck, making sure Valiant was on her correct course, then went aft to his cabin to join Whitworth, Cavendish, and Daventry for dinner. “Your French captain was interesting,” Daventry noted. “I would hardly classify him as my captain, but his news was enlightening,” Granger agreed with a smile. “I think it would be wise to discount the observations of a mere merchant captain,” Whitworth said with disdain. Granger saw Cavendish barely avoid rolling his eyes at this snobbish old peer, and gave him a slight smile, one Cavendish returned. Whitworth had a tendency to poke at people, as if to find a weakness and exploit it. For some reason, Cavendish seemed to have the most limited patience with him, and it was a rare meal where they weren’t sparring with each other over some small point or another. “Perhaps,” Granger said. “While Monsieur Guebertin is merely a merchant captain, my experience suggests that he is much more closely tied to the government than that would suggest.” “What do you mean?” Whitworth demanded. He did not like to have his conclusions challenged, especially by his younger traveling companions. That was probably another reason Cavendish did not seem to like him. “Guebertin was the man Monsieur Talleyrand personally selected to take me back to London on parole, and while his motives were certainly fueled by greed at the surreptitious trading he could do, the fact that he was close enough to Talleyrand to be entrusted with that mission speaks to his importance,” Granger noted. “He seemed remarkably well informed,” Cavendish said, as if to validate what Granger said. “I would further point out that he was dispatched on a mission to Copenhagen for the government, and that someone who was untrustworthy would hardly be given such a task,” Granger said. “Well, Granger, if he is as clever as you think he is, then maybe the things he shared with us were fabrications designed to mislead us,” Whitworth said. “It was obvious that Monsieur Guebertin thinks of you as a friend,” Cavendish said to Granger wryly. “I am also confident that he was very grateful for the fact that you did not capture him. I think that for him to then plant lies as you are suggesting, Whitworth, would make him dishonorable scum, and that seems to be an unfair characterization of a man who appears to be acting quite above board.” Whitworth fumed at Cavendish’s statement, but Daventry entered the conversation to forestall that from breaking into a full-scale argument. “I think it is also important to note that Monsieur Guebertin gave us much information about the Danes and their strategy, but he did not reveal what France is planning to do.” “You gentlemen may accept his statement as true, but I will retain my doubts,” Whitworth said petulantly. “And I doubt that Admiral Dickson will be happy about you neglecting to seize that ship as a prize.” That was clearly aimed at Granger, in that Whitworth was threatening to cause problems between Granger and his admiral. “I am unconcerned whether Admiral Dickson is unhappy that I did not seize Corneille,” Granger said flatly. “Neither am I,” Daventry augmented. “I think that the information we gleaned, along with this excellent wine, was worth more than Corneille would yield as a prize.” “Having been somewhat privy to the inner secrets of the Admiralty, I think both of you gentlemen are correct,” Cavendish said, gesturing at Granger and Daventry. That did much to blunt any fears they may have of Dickson, since Cavendish would know if he was an admiral of considerable influence along the same vein as St. Vincent. He clearly was not. They finished dinner, and then Granger went onto the quarterdeck to check on their progress. It was a gorgeous afternoon: warm and muggy but with a nice breeze to make it comfortable. Cavendish emerged from the cabin and walked over to Granger. “It is a beautiful day,” he said. “Indeed it is,” Granger agreed. “Would you care to smoke a cigar with me on the poop deck?” “That sounds marvelous,” Cavendish said, smiling broadly. Granger summoned Winkler and had him direct the staff to set up two chairs on the poop deck far enough away from the skylights so nosy ears, like those of Lord Whitworth, would not be able to eavesdrop. Winkler brought them cigars, while Jacobs helped them light the tobacco with a slow match. When both cigars were drawing well, Winkler brought them a drink, and then left them alone. “This feels much like a yachting expedition.” “I think you may be right,” Granger said, even as he sat back and enjoyed the tobacco smoke. “I fear that when we reach Denmark, that will change.” “Perhaps,” Cavendish said. “I think it would be good if you could find a way to relax like this at least once in a while.” “There are other ways to relax,” Granger said, flirting with him. “I should imagine that if you wanted a different type of distraction on board, there are people willing to accommodate you,” Cavendish replied playfully. “I am not that fickle,” Granger replied. “I have focused on one target, and am determined to ultimately achieve my goal.” “If you are that determined to chase him,” Cavendish said, “let us hope he is not faster than you.” “He is not faster than me, but he has been running from me for some time now,” Granger said, and let his voice become serious with that statement. “You mistake his confusion for disdain, and that has made you petulant as a result,” Cavendish teased, and even though both were pretending to joke, they were not. Only Granger had bantered enough, and had finally decided to broach the issue that bothered him. “You and I have so little time to enjoy each other, I really did think that you would relish this time we would have together,” he said. “Yet to accomplish that, you all but abducted me,” Cavendish said, the annoyance quite clear. “You seem upset about that, when I thought I was being quite gallant and romantic,” Granger said, returning to his playful mood. “I thought you would appreciate the way I all but saved your life and then whisked you off on an intimate sea cruise.” “An intimate sea cruise where we are living in a crowded space with two other peers, one of whom is old and crusty, and surrounded by 300 other men,” Cavendish observed wryly. “I would say being forced into such tight quarters is quite intimate,” Granger joked, making both of them chuckle. “Indeed,” Cavendish agreed. They paused while they smoked their cigars, giving both of them time to think. Cavendish was telling him that he was seriously annoyed at being kidnapped, and at losing control of his life. Granger recalled how he felt when he was a prisoner in France, and even when people had been quite polite, he had still been compelled to be there against his will. This must have grated on Cavendish in the same manner. “In retrospect, I can see how being dragged off to sea would have vexed you,” Granger admitted. “And I am sorry that I have been so moody about the whole situation,” Cavendish replied. And then they both smiled, having wiped away the cause of their immediate divide with some simple words of atonement. “Do you love him?” Granger asked abruptly, then immediately regretted his words, both because they were so indelicate, and because Cavendish’s reaction was to almost physically close up on him. With an exchange of glances, Cavendish seemed to understand Granger and his base insecurity about this, and managed to respond in a positive vein. “I do not think so, but I do care about him deeply,” he replied. “He is very attractive,” Granger observed, raising an eyebrow playfully. “He is,” Cavendish said, “but not as attractive as you.” “I would have thought that was self-evident,” Granger teased, getting a chuckle from Cavendish. “I once told you that you were singularly able to spark a jealous demon inside of me. Sadly, that has not abated over the years.” “You are not the only one who fights that emotion,” Cavendish said, letting some of his own pain show, the pain he’d had to deal with when Granger had found others to love. “I am not, but I am most concerned with my own emotions, so they seem more important,” Granger joked, making Cavendish actually laugh. “If you were truly that narcissistic, that would not have been funny,” Cavendish responded in between his laughter. “What will you do?” Granger asked. “When I last heard of your travails, you were running around trying to avoid being chained to a shrew for eternity, yet now you have a new boyfriend.” “I do not have a new boyfriend,” Cavendish objected. “I’m focused right now on trying to get along with my old one.” Granger chuckled at that. “You seem to be achieving that goal,” he noted. “I tried to speak to the King, but he was not able to help me,” Cavendish said sadly. “He is so agitated about Catholic Emancipation it has seemingly brought on a relapse of his illness.” “I witnessed that, and it was most distressing,” Granger agreed. “I was led to believe that his spells were sporadic, but we have suspected that they are worse than that.” “Your suspicions are correct,” Cavendish said. “His Royal Highness was full of supportive words, and pledged to support me, but he has done nothing, nor do I think he will.” “You don’t?” Granger asked. “I don’t,” Cavendish confirmed. “He is self-absorbed and vain, which are bad enough characteristics to have, but worse than that, he shirks from tackling tough tasks.” Granger found that very disturbing, since Cavendish was all but calling the Prince of Wales a coward. “So what will you do?” Granger asked. “I will have to be happy with my position as Comptroller and hope that enables me to ultimately support myself in society on my own,” Cavendish said, even though they both knew that was virtually impossible. “I will help you,” Granger pledged. “I cannot live off your generosity like some concubine,” Cavendish said bitterly. “Why not? I think you underestimate the benefits of being my concubine,” Granger joked. “You may be right,” Cavendish said. “I want to be independent. I do not want to have someone else to whom I’m accountable. If I were to surrender that to anyone, it would be you, but even for you, I cannot do that.” “Freddy, you could stay with us at Portland Place and save money on the cost of renting rooms; you could eat there and that would save you the expense of sating your considerable appetite; and I would willingly cover your tailor’s bill to keep you looking so splendid,” Granger said. “That should cover the bulk of your costs.” “With what happened, with that encounter in the baths with Caroline, I could not move in with you without risking fanning the flames of a largely discarded rumor, potentially making it an issue again,” Cavendish noted. “I think that has largely blown over, and if I am there, it largely dispels the allegation that you are fucking my wife,” Granger said with a bit of levity, then swallowed hard before continuing. “If you are worried that I will interfere with your other relationships, I will pledge that I will not. And if it became uncomfortable, I can certainly provide you with a few thousand pounds to set up your own establishment.” “You know me so well, you must surely sense the confusion in me over all this, and the uncertainty,” Cavendish said. “It is so difficult to be so linked to you, then to have you gone when I need you the most. I am not sure that linking myself to you that tightly will be a good thing.” “There is not much I can do about that,” Granger said, barely hiding his annoyance. “And when you do come home, there are so many demands on your time,” Cavendish noted. “You will need to nurture your relationship with Caroline, your family, and your children. If I am underfoot, I feel like I’d be in the way.” “In my mind, if you were living with us, then that makes you a de facto part of our family, and the commitments you talk of that would take me away from you would not do that, they would include you,” Granger said. This topic was taxing his patience to the extreme, as Cavendish was questioning his friendship and, in effect, his word. “I am not sure Caroline would appreciate that,” he said, which made Granger question whether they had healed their own wounded friendship. “Caroline has been very concerned about you, and has listened to me rant about not being able to communicate with you with similar consternation,” Granger said. “While I have not conversed with her on this topic, I am confident that she would welcome you warmly into our household.” “Really?” Cavendish asked, surprised. “We have largely resolved our issues, something we achieved when I returned from the Mediterranean,” Granger said. “I have been so removed from things I wasn’t aware of that,” Cavendish said sadly. “She explained to me why she had the liaison with you and Treadway,” Granger said. “I assumed it was because we were all but irresistible,” Cavendish joked. “Then I assumed it was because she wanted to all but enslave me to support her politically.” “She was frustrated because when I come home, I breeze in and usurp her position at the helm of our empire, such as it is,” Granger said. “She equated it to how I would feel if someone came in and took command of Valiant, while I was still required to be aboard.” They said nothing for a bit, they just smoked their cigars, while Cavendish pondered Granger’s words. “I can see where that would have rankled her,” Cavendish acknowledged. “Now that I have gotten clarity on that topic, we get along quite well,” Granger said. “Does that mean you are her puppet?” Cavendish asked, a question that would have infuriated Granger if he hadn’t seen the apology in Cavendish’s eyes to atone for his unguarded question. “It means that when I am home, we must act as one, and that we must come to a basic agreement about key issues prior to that, something we have done,” Granger said icily. “I can see how that would work,” Cavendish acknowledged. “I am sorry for my words. After this issue with Miss Barnett, I see chains and enslavement at every turn.” “I am more than willing to indulge you with those, but only in private,” Granger said, letting his voice get sultry. “That has a certain allure,” Cavendish said, even as he swallowed, hiding his lust. Granger began to wonder if that was perhaps something Cavendish would enjoy, being bound up and all but forced to do things he wanted to do, and adopted a different strategy with their conversation. “You are floundering around in front of me, trying to figure out what to do, so I am going to give you some guidance, and tell you what to do,” Granger said authoritatively. “You are giving me orders?” Cavendish challenged, clearly annoyed. “I am,” Granger said. “You are on this voyage with me, so you will make the best of it, and use this time to clear your mind so when you return to England you will be able to meet your challenges resolutely.” “That is why you spirited me away,” Cavendish said in an accusatory way. “Perhaps,” Granger noted. “When you get back to England, you will move in with us at Portland Place. If that does not work for you, I will pay for rooms and provide you with an allowance so you can resume your place in society.” “I cannot accept such charity, even from you,” Cavendish objected. “I find your response offensive,” Granger snapped. “When I left the meeting with Lords Whitworth, Spencer, and Daventry to go stop your idiotic duel, I told Lord Whitworth that I did so because you were my best friend. You have saved my life, and you have supported me and advocated for me in my darkest hours, when I had virtually no one else in my corner. So now when you are in dire straits, it is my turn to help you out.” “You are accusing me of being an ungrateful friend,” Cavendish said, mellowing. “I am,” Granger said, yielding not an inch. “Your attitude about this makes me worry that there is some ledger in your mind of things I have done for you and things you have done for me, and I am concerned about what will happen if that ledger gets out of balance.” “That is not fair,” Cavendish objected. “No?” Granger challenged. “Perhaps I have been in the political snake pit that is London for much too long,” Cavendish said. “You are being treated as a pawn, by your father and by others, and that is why you so desperately grasp for your independence,” Granger stated. “You can have that independence, but only if you abandon the life you have built. If you were to accept a lower place in society, you could probably do that.” Cavendish pondered his words, even as they enjoyed the tobacco and the beautiful weather, while a pleasant silence enveloped them. “You are telling me that I am not in a position to be my own man, such as it is, unless I want to dramatically change my life.” “I am saying that you are not in that position right now,” Granger asserted. “And what I am telling you is that you need a benefactor to help you land on your feet, at least for right now. I have offered to do that, as your friend. That is the choice you face.” “You are offering me a lifeline,” Cavendish acknowledged. “And even as you held out that with your open hands, I have rudely slapped them away. I am sorry.” “I did not say that I would not extract something in return,” Granger said. “And what must I do?” Cavendish asked nervously. “You will leave this deck and go back to your cabin and await me there,” Granger growled. “I will meet you there shortly, and we will seal our arrangement by sating my desires.” Cavendish smiled warmly. “I think I have indeed underestimated the benefits of being your concubine.” “Allow me to show you how wrong you were,” Granger said, as they flicked their cigars over the side of the ship, into the sea, then headed to Granger’s cabin.
  18. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 58

    September 13, 2003 The Bowery, NY JJ I laughed as Carullo poked the oxtail tortellini on his plate in a suspicious manner, as if it may come to life. I’d chosen the restaurant this time, which was why were at Capitale. It was a restaurant, but also an event venue, a truly impressive place built out of what was once a similarly impressive bank. “What’s this sauce?” he asked suspiciously. “Try it,” I said. He stabbed a tortellini and shook off most of the sauce then popped it in his mouth. “Kinda spicy, but not bad,” he said. “What did you get?” “Salad,” I said simply, even though it was pretty exotic for a salad. “I’m gonna have to eat after I eat,” he grumbled. I wasn’t sure if that’s because the portions were relatively small, or because he didn’t think he’d be able to eat all of the tortellini because he didn’t like them. “We can swing by a Wendy’s or Burger King on our way home,” I teased. “Yeah, I’ll bet they have Maybachs going through the drive through every day,” he said, making me laugh. “This place is amazing.” The prompted us to gaze up at the tall ceilings, and note the ornate décor. “It said it was the Bowery Bank on the outside,” I said. “Yeah, this is one of those old building that they force them not to tear down, so they make them into places like this,” he said simplistically. “You’re evidently not big on historical architecture,” I joked. “Sometimes if shit is old, you need to tear it down and start over,” he said. “And sometimes, it’s worth fixing,” I said. “You ever been to Europe?” “No,” he said, and frowned. “You should go there with me sometime,” I said. “I think you’d appreciate old shit a lot more after that.” “Maybe,” he said dubiously. I’d waited for him to raise the issue of his inability to be in a relationship, but he hadn’t, and I was starting to lose patience with the entire situation. It had finally gotten to the point where I was irritated enough to call him on it. “So what’s the deal?” I asked. “The deal?” he asked, pretending to be clueless. “Yeah,” I said abruptly. “The deal with us, the deal with you and Luka, and the deal with you not being able to be in a relationship.” “Is that what you want? You want a relationship?” he asked, trying to throw this whole thing back on me. I glared at him. “You’re forcing me to put myself out there, and if I do and I’m wrong, you’ll cut me off at the knees. I don’t handle rejection well.” “You don’t like it when you don’t get your way,” he said, smiling at me, trying to cajole me out of my bitchiness. “I don’t,” I said with a smile, then got serious again. “I need you to help me out here,” I said, almost pleaded, which just made me even angrier. I’d been completely candid with him, or as candid as I could be. I needed him to toss me a lifeline. He said nothing, which just about set me free. Before I went totally psycho-bitch on him, I managed to ask him one more question. “Is it me?” That question seemed to give him clarity. “It is not you,” he said firmly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t get where you were coming from.” “I talked to Will about this, and he told me that if you didn’t like me or find me attractive, then there really wasn’t anything I could do about it,” I explained. “He told you I wasn’t attracted to you?” he demanded, all pissed off. “No, dumbass, he said if you weren’t attracted to me, there wasn’t anything I can do, with a big emphasis on ‘if’. He didn’t think that was the case. And of course, I couldn’t imagine how that could even be possible,” I joked, trying to get my psyche back on an even keel. “So that’s why you were so pissed off at me for going away this weekend? Because you thought I didn’t like you?” “Do you?” I asked. “Yes.” He said that one word so firmly and definitively that it was clear he meant it. “I’m glad,” I said, and smiled at him. “What else?” he demanded, knowing there was more. “I was jealous,” I admitted. “When you said you couldn’t be in a relationship, I didn’t know that meant there were other guys you were into. It caught me off guard, before I had a chance to think it through.” “And to calm down,” he said with a grin. “Right,” I said skeptically, like I didn’t agree with him, even though we both knew he was right. “It’s hard for me to be with just one person,” he said. “Why?” I asked. “Because the one time I did it, it left me ripped up and shredded,” he said, and got so emotional that a tear fell down his cheek. I reached over and gently wiped it away. “So that’s it?” I asked. “You’re one and done?” He frowned at me. “I can’t handle that kind of pain again.” “That’s a bunch of crap,” I said. “You pretend like loneliness isn’t pain. It is.” “I’m not lonely,” he objected. “Bullshit. Fucking someone doesn’t make you less lonely,” I said. This was surreal. I was having this conversation and talking about things I didn’t know anything about. I was going on pure instinct. If he listened to me, I hoped that I was right. “Maybe not, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said with a leer. “I’m just different than you,” I said. “Better than me?” he demanded, getting all offended. “No dipshit, different,” I snapped. “I can’t do that. I can’t sleep with people I’m not into. So it makes it hard for me to understand how that makes you feel better.” The waiter, with absolutely horrible timing, chose that moment to bring the check. We had to talk to him, and that broke the intimate mood. “You ready to go?” Carullo asked, as soon as I’d signed off on the credit card receipt. “Let’s go,” I said grumpily, leaving my conversation with him only halfway completed. We got into the car and I put up the privacy screen. “You want to drive through Wendy’s?” I asked. He chuckled. “Nah, I’m good.” “What’s the deal with you and Luka?” I asked him. He gave me a foul look for prying, but seemed to realize that in this situation, it was a relevant question. “I’ve been going out with him for a couple of months now,” he said. “That sounds like a relationship,” I said. “At this point, we’re friends.” “Friends?” I challenged. “Friends,” he repeated. “Not saying we don’t fuck, I’m just saying that we’re friends.” “I don’t understand,” I said, totally confused. That sounded like a relationship to me. “We go out and do something once or twice a week,” he said. “It’s pretty relaxed.” I frowned at him. “How do you feel about him?” “I like him,” he said simply. I didn’t know if I was too naïve to understand what he was saying, or he was being purposely obtuse, but I had no idea what the fuck he was talking about. “I’m still not following you,” I said, and not all that nicely. “It means that things are casual between us. It means that we’re not going to move in and be a couple like I was with Joey,” he said. Those last words had slipped out, but hearing himself say that out loud fucked him up. I reached over and grabbed his hand in a supportive way, knowing that anything else I did would probably just upset him more. “Sorry.” “I get it,” I said. “I’m not trying to be a pain in the ass, I’m just trying to figure things out.” “Things with Luka are going along slow, and I think we both like that,” he said. “Right now, the whole situation is pretty confusing.” “No shit,” I said, since I still didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. “You know, up until about a week ago, you hadn’t shown any interest in me at all,” he said, and sounded a little bitter about it. “I didn’t think you were into me,” I said. “I told you I don’t handle rejection well. I couldn’t put myself out there only to have you shoot me down.” “You think I’m that big of an asshole?” he demanded. “I think you’re probably not used to dealing with someone who’s as neurotic and high-strung as I am,” I said. “Sometimes I don’t get you,” he said, shaking his head in frustration. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded, and not all that nicely. “You are really smart, really talented, amazingly attractive, and a total class act,” he said, words that totally fed my ego and made me smile. “I can’t believe you’re that insecure.” That comment, in turn, made me frown. “Believe it,” I said grumpily. “Things could have gone farther with Luka, but then you rocked my world,” he said. “I did?” I asked happily. “You did,” he confirmed. “So that’s why I’m confused, and that’s why I came back early.” “Because you don’t know which one of us you like better?” I asked, dreading his response. “It’s not like that,” he said, then sighed. “Maybe it is a little bit.” “Dude, you have no idea how competitive I can be,” I said it as a warning, but playfully at the same time. “I don’t want that, a big fight over me,” he said. “You want to know what I want?” “Duh,” I said, getting an eye roll in response. “I want to keep things easy, where we don’t have any commitments, so I can see how things work out,” he said. “What does Luka think about that?” I asked. “He’s not real happy about it,” he said. “Neither am I,” I said candidly. “It’s like you want to string us both along so you can finally decide which one of us you like best.” “I’m not stringing anyone along,” he objected. “I’m not demanding commitments from either one of you.” This was one of those times when I wished I were sluttier. If that was the case, I could go out and fuck around like crazy, making him jealous as shit. “Then I guess that’s how things are,” I said crisply. The car pulled up to our building and we both got out and walked up the stairs, saying nothing, then when we got to the condo we both vanished into our own rooms. September 13, 2003 Goodwell, VA Will This had been one freaky as fuck day, but at least this time, most of the drama wasn’t about me. I felt really sorry for Alex, since it seemed like he’d had about a ton of bricks dropped on him. He was always so calm and composed, just like Grand and Wade, so to see him lose his cool and start to come unglued was pretty upsetting. The end result of the whole thing was that I’d ended up feeling dirty, so I’d taken a shower, but it didn’t really help all that much. I dried off, put on a pair of white boxer briefs, and lay face down on the comfortable queen-size bed, even as I pulled out my laptop and started fiddling around with it. I chuckled to myself, thinking I looked like a tech junkie, with my laptop and mouse out, and next to that was my cell phone. I looked at the phone to see if anyone had called me, but I was disappointed as usual. Even Dally had stopped calling me, or at least he didn’t call all that often. He’d finally put his issues behind him and started dating this girl at his school, so now he was all into her, and all in love. He reminded me of how Ryan had been when he’d started dating Shiloh. I was happy for him, but it was just one more person pulled out of my support network. I frowned when I looked at the clock and saw that it was 11:30pm. My birthday started in half an hour, and the way things look, I probably wasn’t going to get laid. The one thing that would make me feel better at this point probably wasn’t going to happen. I looked at my “travel pack” of lube and condoms that I brought with me in case I got lucky and got irritated enough to put it in the drawer of my nightstand. A knock at my door pulled me out of my pity party. “Come in,” I said casually. “Mr. Schluter?” a deep masculine voice said. I looked behind me and saw Ramon, one of the mercenaries Jake had hired, peeking in. “Call me Will,” I demanded forcefully, but smiled. He looked nervous. “Come on in.” He smiled back at me, came in, and shut the door behind him. “I just came by to give you something.” I briefly fantasized about this stud ripping off his pants and fucking me senseless, and that created a pretty big reaction in my shorts, otherwise I would have sat up to talk to him. “What?” I asked, raising an eyebrow in a flirtatious way. He walked over to the bed, and it was flattering to see that he was having a hard time not staring at my ass. I squeezed my ass cheeks a little bit, just to mess with him, and almost giggled when his pants bulged a bit. “This.” He handed me what looked like a walkie-talkie. “What is it?” “It’s a communication device for this evening,” he said. “Sit down and explain it to me,” I said, patting the bed next to me, on my right side. His bulk caused the bed to sag toward him, moving me so my waist rubbed up against his left hand. Neither one of us moved, which gave me a raging erection. “We’re supposed to be watching out for intruders,” he said. “If we have one, we’ll broadcast it on this device.” “Cool,” I said, even as I fiddled with it. “Did you already deliver all the others?” “We did,” he said, and grinned, getting some game. “I saved the best for last.” “Thanks,” I said. “I was pretty bored until you came by.” “I should probably get back,” he said, and made to get up. “You’re in amazing shape,” I said, stopping him with my words. “It’s just part of who I am,” he said. “You’re not doing too bad yourself.” “You think?” I asked suggestively. He ran his hand over my shoulders. “Good muscle tone,” he commented. “What about my lower back?” I asked. He moved his hand sensuously down my spine, stopping at the waist band to my underwear. He had turned slightly, so when I looked to my right I was staring at his crotch, and there was no mistaking that it was bulging pretty big. “Good muscles there too,” he said, even as his fingers gently traced my back just above my waistband. “What about lower?” I asked. “Those look good too,” he said shyly. “You sure?” I asked. He smiled and then I felt his hands moving across my glutes, squeezing my ass as he did, and making me moan. “Nice,” he said. “I think you need an even comparison,” I said. I lifted my waist up and pulled my underwear down one leg, then the other, then kicked them off. His hands were back now, with his fingers tracing down my crack. “Much better,” he said. I reached over and grabbed his crotch, making him jump in alarm at first, then he relaxed. I gauged his size and guessed that he was normal, so I reached into my nightstand drawer and grabbed a condom and some lube. “Fuck me,” I ordered as I handed them to him. I thought for a minute he was going to argue with me, but he didn’t. He stood up, lowered his pants down just enough to expose his thick, five inch cock, then put the condom on, lots of lube, and lay down on my back. The feeling of him on top of me, with his massive bulk and all of his equipment still attached, even as he thrust his dick slowly into me, was erotic as hell. He hadn’t prepped me, so it hurt a bit, but I adapted quickly enough, and then I was with him, bucking my hips back into him in time to his thrusts. He groaned and grunted into my ear, even as he picked up his pace. He didn’t last long, but I expected that, since he had work to do. He froze up and moaned loudly, then blasted his load, making these little thrusts that banged against my prostate in the sexiest way. If he’d have lasted another minute, I’d have blown a major load, but he didn’t. When he was done, he pulled out, pulled the condom off, then took it into the bathroom and flushed it down the toilet. “Thanks,” he said, even as he headed for the door. “Thank you,” I said. “Stop by anytime.” He chuckled, then he left. I sighed, and was about to roll over onto my back and jack off when my phone rang. I looked at it and saw that it was Zach, and saw that the time was 12:01. “Hey,” I answered cheerfully. “Hey,” he said. “I am so sorry I didn’t call you on the eleventh.” “That’s fine,” I lied. “I figured if I called you now, I’d be able to be the first one to wish you a happy birthday.” “You are,” I said cheerfully. “How are you doing?” He went through this lengthy description of his game today, telling me how well he did. I listened patiently, saying the appropriate things so he thought I was into what he was saying. He’d just finished rambling on about that, when I heard voices in the background. “I gotta run,” he said. “Where are you going?” “Big party to celebrate,” he said enthusiastically. “Have fun,” I said, and managed to sound sincere. “Have a great birthday!” he said, then ended our call. It was sweet that he’d called me, but that was about it. The rest of the conversation was pretty depressing. It was all about him. He didn’t really give a shit about me, and he really didn’t want to hear what was going on in my life. A tear fell out of my eye, and rather than wipe it off, I just buried my head in the pillow and cried yet again over losing yet another piece of Zach Hayes. Another knock on my door pulled me out of my pity party. I wondered briefly if it was Ramon coming back for another round. “Who is it?” I asked. “Alex,” I heard him say. “Just a minute,” I said. I threw on a pair of sweat pants, going commando, and sprayed some cologne on me and the bedspread just to mask any residual sex smells. I went over and opened the door. “Come on in.” “I hope I am not disturbing you,” he said. “Not at all,” I said. We went over and sat on the bed. I could almost feel the turmoil within him. “How are you doing?” “Not well,” he said. “Not well at all.” “Dude, you had some pretty heavy shit dropped on you,” I said sympathetically. “It is your birthday, yet I have come here to ask you for a favor.” “What do you need?” I asked, more than willing to help him out, or at least I was until he planted a major liplock on me. Alex was a really good kisser, and I found myself floating away with him, until I thought of JJ and froze. “I can’t do this.” “I am certainly not trying to force you, but I think that the only thing that will help me stabilize myself at this point is having someone fuck me. You are the only candidate,” he said. That made sense. Darius was straight, and there’s no way Matt or Wade would jeopardize their relationship to help him out. Probably the only other person who could fuck him would be my father, and that was pretty much out of the question. “So you came here because I’m your only choice?” I teased, pretending to be all offended. “I assumed you would worry about Jays, and that would make you reluctant, but I needed you enough to risk it,” he said. “I am willing to pledge that I will say nothing to him.” “I don’t know,” I said, confused. “I was hoping you would not make me beg,” he said, a comment that was part desperation, part irritation. He clearly wasn’t used to groveling to get someone to have sex with him. I could say no, but that seemed incredibly cruel. I decided that JJ would probably understand, and if not, at least it would give him something to hold over my head. “You sure you want me to fuck you?” I asked in my sultry bedroom voice, even as I stood up and lowered my pants. I was still really horny from my fuck with Ramon, so my dick hardened in no time. “Tonight, I need that kind of challenge,” he said, then I felt his lips on my cock, and that overwhelmed any residual arguments I may have had. Unfortunately, I was still pretty worked up from Ramon, and I felt the warning signs too late. “Gonna cum,” I said, and then blasted my load into his mouth. “I’m sorry,” I said, when I was done. “I enjoyed that,” he said. “I recharge fast, and the good news is that when I do, I’ll last even longer,” I said. “And that is even better news.” We stripped off our clothes and got into the bed in a 69 position, then while he blew me and brought my dick back to life, I tongued and probed his ass to get him ready for my big dick. When he seemed loose enough, I reached into my drawer, pulled out a magnum, and using lots of lube, I slowly pushed into him. I was surprised that he took it as well as he did, and even more surprised at how, once he got used to me, how into it he was. He was one really good fuck. I was able to last long enough to get him off, and only after he’d blown did I give myself permission to cum. We lay there on the bed, side by side, panting and smiling. “That was one hell of a birthday present.” He chuckled. “Thank you for helping me out. I feel as if my head is clear now.” He hung out for a few minutes, then left. I thought about our fuck, and decided that he’d cleared my brain out too. My two sexual encounters for the night had helped me erase the sadness over my conversation with Zach from my mind, and that enabled me to actually sleep. September 14, 2003 Goodwell, VA Brad “You should go to bed,” Jake said. “We’ve got things covered.” I looked at him dubiously. There was absolutely no way I could sleep. If they were going to come after us here, they were going to do it tonight. I was much too big of a control freak to not be here. “I’m fine,” I said crisply. “As am I,” Wade said, to preclude Jake from trying to get him to leave as well. We were situated in a small room off the kitchen, one that had a lot of books and records in it. We’d picked this spot as our ‘headquarters’ because it had no windows and that meant it could remain dark, and because it was conveniently located close to the door that went out to the stables. In the back were three rifles from Wade’s armory here at Goodwell, just in case we needed weapons. I hadn’t really known much about modern defense systems, which was surprising considering I was the chairman of a defense electronics firm, so this was quite the educational experience. These guys had first studied the topography carefully, assessing where any threat would have to come from, and where it wouldn’t. They’d deployed a whole bunch of electronic monitoring devices, including sensors and cameras, all of them linked into this room. It was an amazing setup, especially considering how little time they’d had to set it up. I looked at the large screen in front of Ramon, and noticed there were stationary lights marking the monitors, and they completely surrounded Goodwell at varying distances away from the house, forming what looked like multiple rings of defense. “Why is there a gap there?” I asked, pointing to a spot where there were no lights. “That’s a lake,” Jake said, and tapped Ramon, who hit a button, causing a picture of the lake to appear on one of the other monitors. “How will we know if we have visitors?” I asked. “A couple of ways,” Jake said. “Joe and Kenny are out on the grounds, so they may physically spot someone.” He gestured at the main screen, where in addition to the stationary lights on the screen, there were two other lights that were moving around. Those indicated where Joe and Kenny were. “More likely, we’ll pick them up on sensors.” Jake tapped Ramon on the shoulder. “Nothing yet,” Ramon said, briefly taking off his headphones, then he was back at his task. He seemed remarkably calm, composed, and focused. The only way I’d probably be close to as relaxed as he was is if I’d just fucked someone. “We’ll either hear something on his headphones, or he’ll see an infrared or signal,” Jake said, pointing at the master screen showing that those things were deployed. “Otherwise, we’ll pick them up on camera.” “Impressive,” Wade said. “What kind of force do you think they’d send?” I asked. Jake shrugged. “Could be one guy, a sniper type person, could be a large group. If it’s a large group, they’ll be easier to track. They’ll be like thugs.” “They won’t know we have these kinds of systems deployed,” Wade said. “Most likely,” Jake cautioned, since we had no way of knowing what they did or didn’t know. “To be honest, your security was pretty shitty. They would have expected more than what you have.” “Unless they had someone who could clue them in,” I said. Wade got really annoyed at that, since it implied that a member of his staff was disloyal, but he got over it. In this situation, you couldn’t really take anything for granted. We sat there for a long time, just staring at the screens. Periodically, Jake would take over from Ramon, but not for long. I was starting to relax and get complacent when one of the icons representing a monitor began to flash, indicating that it had a signal. “That’s an audio monitor,” Jake said. Ramon patched the audio through, and I heard someone speaking Spanish. “Fuck, they have monitors,” he said. “We’ll have to take them out.” I interpreted that to Wade, since he didn’t speak Spanish. “He said that into his radio, most likely,” Jake said. “Monitor 7 is out,” Ramon said. That was a camera monitor. “Malfunction?” Jake asked. Ramon punched some buttons, and the video came up. There was a shadowy figure in front of it, then something must have taken it out from behind. “Alert Joe and Kenny,” Jake said. Ramon was on the radio immediately. “We’re dealing with some people who know their shit,” Jake said. “Have Kenny observe Monitor 9.” Ramon relayed that. “Why Monitor 9?” I asked. It wasn’t in the direct path to Goodwell. “If they’re pros, they’ll try to work around and develop an erratic approach pattern,” Jake informed us. He got on his cell phone, presumably calling in reinforcements. “Who did you call?” Wade asked. “The FBI,” he said. “I already told them we were worried about a narcotics related assault, and cited the deal with those properties as a reason. They told me to call it in if it happened, so I called it in.” “Another monitor out,” Ramon said. “Monitor 3.” “They went the other way,” Jake said morosely. “Let Kenny and Joe know.” “Got a gunshot,” Ramon said. “Monitor 2.” He was already passing that info on to Kenny and Joe. I’d felt really comfortable just a few minutes ago with this string of lights around Goodwell, indicating that we were securely entrenched behind our electronic wall, only these guys were taking out monitors and dancing around them remarkably fast. “Who did it?” Jake asked, referring to the gun shot. He was listening with one headphone. “Wasn’t us,” he said to me. “No one is hurt.” “Another gunshot,” Ramon said. “They’re targeting Joe.” “We need to give them some backup,” he said. Ramon stood up. “I’m on it.” He hurried stealthily out the door. Jake took over, and began coordinating things himself. I could see the beauty of having Ramon here, because it gave Jake the ability to focus more on the big picture, but that was a luxury we no longer had. We watched the screen and saw Ramon now, a third blinking light, as he moved toward Monitor 8. “Monitor 8 is out,” Jake said into the microphone. Our monitors were going dark, one by one, as they closed in on Goodwell. “Should we get ready to defend ourselves?” Wade asked. “Let’s wait a few minutes,” Jake said. “They still have a few obstacles to get through.” A different alert signal blinked. “What’s that?” I asked. “That’s a shed, of some sort,” Jake said. “It was rigged with a door alert.” He flashed a picture of it on the screen. “That’s a maintenance shed,” Wade said. “It’s got mostly lawn and garden equipment in it.” “So nothing vital?” Jake asked. “Nothing vital,” Wade replied. “That monitor is awfully close to us,” I said, watching as Monitor 4 blinked, then went out. “Shit,” Jake said, then spoke into the microphone. “Fall back,” he told his guys. “What’s happening?” I asked, confused by his urgent command. “They’re trying to flank our guys, to get around them and cut them off from the main house,” Jake explained, pointing to how that last Monitor was at the edge of the woods before you got to Goodwell. “How many do you think are out there?” Wade asked. “Hard to say, but the way they’re taking out monitors and pinning Kenny, Joe, and Ramon back, I’d say at least 5, possibly 6. And these guys know what they’re doing,” he said. “How long until we get some help from the authorities?” I asked. “I’m guessing within thirty minutes,” he said. “You don’t want to call the locals, like the Charlottesville cops or county guys.” “Why not?” Wade asked, confused. “Because they’d roll right into an ambush,” he said, gesturing at the screen, where yet another monitor went out. “These guys would eat their lunch.” “What should we do?” I asked. “We’re going to have to fall back to the house, and fight them off here,” Jake said. “Which gun do you want?” I asked Wade, even as we both looked at the rifles that we’d thought were merely symbolic. “Another gunshot,” Jake said, interrupting my question. “We got one of their guys. Kenny did. He’s falling back fast.” He paused for a second, then flipped a button, turning on Monitor 14, a camera monitor. We saw a wounded man, completely dressed in black, with his hand grabbing the side of his body, where presumably he’d been shot. Then we watched in real horror as another one of the goons came up to his wounded colleague and shot him in the head. “Holy shit,” I said. I looked at Wade in terror at the thought of what these guys could do to the people in this house. Jake’s phone rang and he answered it, then spoke into the radio urgently. “Get back! Get back! Back to the house! We have incoming!” The guys had been falling back slowly, just as Jake had first ordered, but now we saw the indicators, showing where Kenny, Ramon, and Joe were, moving rapidly back to Goodwell. We heard the helicopters before we saw them, but it didn’t take long before there were a number of them, military models, hovering around Goodwell, illuminating the woods and grounds around it. “We’re clear,” Jake said into his phone. “There’s a guy in the shed.” Our broad cameras caught the action as an attack helicopter searched the grounds, while two others landed and disgorged the agents they’d brought here. We heard the unmistakable sound of machine gun fire as the attack chopper took shots at the bad guys. There was a streak of light, then a loud explosion, as a rocket obliterated the shed, and presumably the guy hiding in there. “Guess I’ll need a new shed,” Wade said ruefully, with a hint of humor. “And some lawn equipment,” I added. We heard a loud commotion from outside our room, as the residents, guests, and staff of Goodwell were awakened by the blast. “That was close,” I noted, referring to the overall assault. “Too close,” Wade said, shaking his head. “If Jake wouldn’t have brought those guys in, we’d probably all be dead.” I nodded in agreement, even as we heard more machine gun fire off in the distance. The FBI ground commander came into our headquarters, and I hung out with them while Wade went to try and calm everyone down. Only after I saw the hordes of agents blanketing the property was I willing to leave the room and go back to talk to my family, leaving Jake to coordinate the clean-up with the Feds.
  19. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 57

    A motor coach full of tourists would be better? Or the Hop on Hop Off double decker bus?
  20. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 57

    Yes, but Sharon hates him, and keeps lobbying for him to meet an untimely death by being run over by a bus. :-)
  21. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 57

    And if he was kidnapped, who would care? 😃
  22. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 57

    September 13, 2003 Goodwell, VA Wade I had originally considered reconvening our meeting at dinner, but that seemed to be tempting fate just too much. Visions of the Thanksgiving nightmare dinner last year seared through my brain. Instead, we’d just enjoyed a relaxed meal and celebrated Maddy’s birthday. It was a really nice, calm event, and helped to soothe some of the frayed feelings that our first meeting had inevitably caused. We’d celebrate Riley’s birthday tomorrow, and Will’s as well if he was around long enough. The bond between Will and Maddy was really touching, but he seemed pretty attached to Riley too. Probably the biggest surprise was how much fun Darius had playing with them now that they weren’t just blobs, even though they wore him out. Just seeing how much energy it took to deal with a three-year-old was probably great birth control. We were due to start meeting again in the library in an hour, so I took that opportunity to wander down to the nursery to check on Riley and Maddy. My mother was outside their room in the hallway with her back to me, talking on her cell phone. She had a unique ability to speak into a phone or whisper into your ear such that people around her couldn’t hear what she said, an ability I’d inherited from her. Only in this situation, she hadn’t known anyone was there, so as I strolled up to her, I could hear her words quite clearly. “Take him out.” Her words were vicious and direct, uttered as an order, the kind of order someone would issue when they were planning to have someone killed. She saw me immediately after she said that, and look flustered. I stared at her until she ended her call. “Take whom out?” I asked icily. “You were eavesdropping on my conversation?” she challenged. “That is surely beneath you.” “I was,” I said firmly, disregarding the etiquette rules. “Who are you planning to take out?” “I will not be badgered,” she said, and headed down the hall, away from me. I followed her. “And I will not be put off in this situation, with so much on the line,” I demanded. My words were loud enough to stop her escape, as she certainly didn’t want a scene. “I was talking to my publicist, who was discussing my efforts with someone at the Washington Post,” she lied. “I told him to take the reporter out, as a good lunch or dinner may get me more favorable press.” “That was very good, Mother,” I said. “You managed to think up an excuse for that quite fast.” “You may think whatever you like, Wade,” she said curtly. “I will see you at the meeting.” She strode away from me confidently, leaving me wondering who would be on the receiving and of her wrath this time. The good news was that most of the people who were important to me were here, and I didn’t think there was any way she could accomplish an execution at Goodwell. “Wade,” I heard Brad say. I turned to find him standing there with Jake. “We’d like to introduce you to some people, and see if you can integrate them into your household for the next day or two.” “Certainly,” I said, and followed them to the stables. There were three men there, and they were all muscular, hulking guys. “These are three friends of mine,” Jake said, introducing them. What was hysterical, in a politically incorrect way, was that they were like a stereotypical team: Joe was African American, Kenny was Asian, and Ramon was Hispanic. I guess with Jake as the token white guy, they rounded out the human color wheel. I wanted to give them Ninja Turtle names. “They’re here to provide security. They’ll need to deploy some monitors, and spend some time getting the layout figured out.” “Of course,” I said. I took them to meet the head groundskeeper and told him that with all of our distinguished guests, we’d added some extra security. He agreed to help them out, but all of that took time. I glance anxiously at my watch, since it was almost time for our meeting, and I didn’t want to be late and miss something. “We’ll handle things,” Joe said. “Thanks,” Jake told him. Jake, Brad and I went back into the house and made it to the library just as everyone had gotten situated. Conveniently enough, everyone sat in the same place they’d been in before, which made it seem orderly, at least to my OCD mind. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to greet you all,” I said formally. Matt snickered at me, since if I had been speaking casually, I would have used the term y’all instead. “Jake has jumped in and arranged security for us in no time at all. I hope that will help you sleep more comfortably.” “Thank you, Wade, and you as well, Jake,” Alex said. “I have phoned home, and ensured that Ricky has ample protection as well.” I tried not to be a control freak in these situations, but it made me a little nervous, since Alex didn’t always pick up on the level of the threat. I remembered how he’d thought he could easily handle Mary Ellen’s scheme to remove JJ from their lives, and how badly that had backfired on all of us. “I’ve had a bit of time to think about this situation, and I have a couple of questions,” Brad said. We all looked at him, non-verbally assuring him he had the floor. “How involved is Lady Preston’s family in the current opium trade?” “I am not aware of the extent of their involvement, but based on how long they have been doing it, I would expect them to be quite involved,” the Duke said. “They are involved, according to my sources, in a significant portion of the global trade,” Jake said. “You won’t be surprised to discover that the name they operate under is Blankford.” “This must be a long-term goal, to have named their consortium after that title,” Stef noted. “Does that mean that Blankford is the equivalent of a company name, or is it in direct reference to Ricky’s courtesy title?” I asked. “Or both?” JP asked. “I don’t know,” Jake said. “I talked to a friend in the DEA, and he said that their family has adopted pretty shrewd tactics to remain a key player in the narcotics industry. It is an industry that craves the power of consolidation, but its illegal structure makes that difficult.” “How have they gotten around that?” I asked. “They have gone in and created a consortium of sorts, where they align with a specific cartel or cartels in a market, and then they can ensure smooth supply of their products,” he said. “They’ve got good contacts in Afghanistan, which is one of the biggest suppliers in the world. Most of that product is shipped to Europe through the Balkans. They’ve also got ties in Myanmar, where the product ships to China, or Indonesia and Australia. And the key supplier in North America is Mexico.” “I would suspect that with the war in Afghanistan, that is interfering with their supply,” Mother said with a hopeful note, as if that may justify this foolish war her friends in the government had dragged us into. “It has hurt it a bit, but not enough to cause them major problems,” Jake said. I almost laughed at how that disappointed my mother. “That’s what they’re doing in Mexico!” Brad exclaimed, almost too loudly. “Lord Preston isn’t going there to broker an agreement with the Ortegas, they’re going to pull the Ortegas into their consortium.” We paused to digest what he said. “That is why those properties are so important to them,” Stef noted. He paused to explain the issue with Buzz Dalby’s estate and the lands bordering Mexico they were trying to acquire. “I would suspect with that kind of backing, and with a secure infrastructure on both sides of the border, they would be able to move lots of product into the US,” Jake said. “And I would suspect that when that is accomplished, the Ortegas will become the most powerful of the Mexican cartels.” “Is that their modus operandi?” JP asked. “It would seem illogical to go in and start a war of consolidation when you could easily unite the factions by affiliating them with your consortium.” “That would seem to make more sense,” Jake said. “Unless they felt that wasn’t possible. In that case, there has to be a war to annihilate the opposing cartels, or at the very minimum, to iron out who works in which markets.” “I wonder if there is some reason why the Rubios won’t work with this group?” Brad asked. “Surely there are rival consortiums.” “There are,” Jake said. “Probably the strongest is the Minh group in China.” Brad and Stef looked at each other a bit nervously. “Then I suspect you will see the Rubios align with the Minh group,” Stef said. “Do you know them?” Jake asked. “Mr. Minh had briefly dabbled in the world of Venture Capital, and through those ties I met a few of his deputies,” Stef said. “Met,” Brad said sarcastically, and chuckled. Stef gave him a dirty look, which made Matt, Will, Darius, and I snicker as well, since it was easy enough to deduce that Stef had fucked one of them, at least. “I would have thought these guys would do just fine, running their own operations, without all this interference from the outside,” Matt said. That made sense. Why would the Ortegas want to rock the boat by bringing in a consortium? “If one group brings in a powerful ally, then I suspect the other group would feel compelled to seek allies as well,” Stef noted. “And presumably the same competitive desire will influence the consortiums. If one moves into Mexico, others would reasonably feel a need to do that as well, probably for their own survival.” “So maybe the Minh group worked out a deal with the Rubios first?” JP mused. “I don’t think that’s the case,” Jake said. “I think I would have heard about that, and when it was raised, it was just a distant idea, not a done deal. I think the Rubios would only bring in the Minh group if they felt threatened by the Blankford deal with the Ortegas.” “Why wouldn’t the Rubios have the same drive to get bigger and more powerful as the Ortegas?” Will asked. Jake shrugged. “These groups already have to deal with a lot of issues, not the least of which is the attempts by law enforcement to ruin their business and by rival groups to assassinate them. Sparking a war is a whole new level of risk.” “The Ortegas must have run the analysis and decided that the risk was worth the reward,” Stef mused, making this all sound like a simple business deal. It was easy to forget that the people we were talking about were dregs who preyed on human weakness, and contributed in no small part to the destabilization of society as a whole. “Wait a minute,” Brad said. “When we were talking about this before, we were wondering if they were trying to weaken us, our family. Is that part of this deal?” “Are you involved with these groups?” the Duke asked with a condescending air, as if to imply that Stef was part of the Rubio cartel. “We have had peripheral dealings with them that are not drug related,” Stef said, his irritation showing quite clearly at being snubbed by this self-important aristocrat. “I would submit those dealings are less intimate than the ties to your family.” “In any event, I cannot see why they would see us as a resource for the Rubios or the Minh group,” Brad said hastily, to keep Stef and the Duke from going for each other’s throats. “You must put all the pieces together,” Mother said, her voice sounding elegant and smooth, but also a bit condescending, as if she were addressing people who were hopelessly naive. “Something I have been accused of doing all too well.” I smiled at her to acknowledge that she at least heard me when I talked of her Byzantine schemes. “Explain that,” Mary Ellen said. “This does not all have to revolve around just one objective,” Mother said. “In fact, I suspect there are multiple goals.” “I’m not following you,” Matt said. “If Lord Preston meets with the Ortegas to arrange for them to join his consortium, that does not mean that he isn’t also plotting to install his children from his second marriage as the heirs to the Dukedom,” she said. “I can see that,” Brad said, getting her point. “In that case, Lord Preston’s dealings in Mexico may have nothing to do with us at all, while his attempts to cause us problems may be linked to his second goal.” “That would explain why we have all felt the impact of their wrath,” JP said. “They have spread it around so it hits all of us, and not just our business interests.” “Why?” Will asked. “If there was a plan in place to weaken us as a group, that gives us a logical reason as to why Lord Preston was willing to aid in the destruction of JJ’s career, and why he paid Alexandra Carmichael to plan out and execute Mrs. Danfield’s rape.” JP looked at my mother meaningfully when he said that. “I hope you will forgive me for raising this issue, and that unpleasant memory.” “It is something I would indeed like to forget, but it was relevant,” Mother said. “But thank you for your concern.” “You’re welcome,” JP said. It was funny how he had managed to look much more like a gentleman during this whole discussion than the Duke. “I can see why Lord Preston wouldn’t want to hurt you, since he had planned to inherit your holdings,” Mother said to the Duke. “I don’t understand why he would go after me, and the rest of the people here.” “Because he probably understands the kind of family loyalty that bonds us together,” I explained. “I would assume that in his mind, he would have grafted the Duke’s honorable intentions and values onto us, and onto JP and Stefan. In that case, if one of us were under attack, the rest would come to our rescue.” “Our three families are now intertwined by marriage or other important relationships,” JP added. “It is inconceivable to think that I would stand aside and watch someone try to destroy Wade without stepping in to help. I would have to believe Wade would do the same thing for his nephew.” “But maybe not for his sister,” Matt teased, taking a swipe at Mary Ellen. Only we had grown closer over these past two years, and I had come to genuinely enjoy spending time with her. “No, I would fight for my sister,” I said definitively. It was one of the more meaningful moments I’d had with Mary Ellen. She smiled at me and nodded. “And I would fight for you too, Wade, but probably not as hard,” she joked, making all of us laugh. “Here is what concerns me,” I said, getting serious again. “It seems that to achieve their goal, Lord and Lady Preston must eliminate Your Grace, Alex, and Ricky. There really is no other way for them to accomplish that.” “They would surely not resort to murder,” the Duke said. “These people are drug lords,” Mother said, and actually let her irritation show. “They would have no problem killing to achieve a major objective.” “And that means that none of you is safe from their reach, nor will you ever be,” I said. “I’m actually rather surprised you’ve survived this long.” “I can’t imagine my father, as bad as our relationship has been, would arrange to have me killed,” Alex said, and looked visibly shaken. “Your father may not be willing to do that, but his wife is probably not as sentimental where you are concerned,” Mother pointed out. “If something happens to Lord Preston, that is when this will come to a head.” “What could happen to him?” I asked her suspiciously. “Wade, he is in Mexico meeting with members of cartels,” she said to me dismissively. “That is a high risk venture.” “That’s what your phone call was about,” I accused, putting it all together. She glared at me with her most vicious look, the one that would cause most people to shrink away into the shadows, but had no impact on me at all. “Now you are seeing phantoms where there are none,” she said, but there was a note of warning in her voice. That’s exactly who she’d been referring to when she’d given the order to take him out, I was almost certain. But there was nothing to be gained by discussing that in this group. If whoever she talked to actually did succeed in taking out Lord Preston, knowledge that she was involved in that would only complicate things. “I don’t understand,” Brad said, having picked up on our underlying tension. “It seems to me that this threat will remain over our heads forever,” Mother said, ignoring Brad’s query, and adopting an angry pose to cover our prior exchange in a smokescreen. “And it seems that my grandson is now directly in harm’s way.” “That is surely just supposition at this point,” the Duke said. “I am not willing to be as blithe about it as you are,” Mother said to him. “As Wade noted, it is only you, then Alex, then Ricky who are preventing Lady Preston’s children from assuming the peerage. I would have to believe, based on what we’re learning, that she is ambitious, determined, and ruthless enough to make that happen.” “I don’t think she’d shed a tear if I vanished,” Alex said sadly. “Is there a way to somehow prevent that from happening?” I asked the Duke. “Is there some way to ensure that their children will not inherit the Dukedom?” “I am not aware of anything, other than treason, which is grounds to remove a title they would have been born into,” the Duke said. “I have explored this area before, and have sadly come up empty handed.” “Yet there is one way,” Mother said, smiling her most evil smile. It was as if I could see the light bulbs going off in her mind. “I must say, I have to admire Sabrina Granger’s handiwork in this.” “You know her?” I asked, since her comment seemed to indicate a level of familiarity I hadn’t noticed before. “I have only met her once, but I know of her,” Mother said, stunning me with the long reach of her network. “What do you mean, you admire her handiwork?” Mary Ellen asked. “The only way to deny the Dukedom to Lady Preston’s children is to have them declared to be illegitimate,” Mother said. “It is much the same discussion we had when we first talked about your pregnancy. If you and Alex weren’t married, then Ricky would not be in the line of succession.” “That is correct,” the Duke said, as if ruling definitively on that point. “But Lord and Lady Preston are married,” Mary Ellen asserted. “Are they?” Mother challenged. “What do you know that you’re not telling us?” I demanded, wondering what kind of scheme she’d cooked up. “I know how to prove that those children are bastards,” she asserted. We all stared at her, amazed at that statement. “You would have to prove that Lord and Lady Preston never married,” I said. “Or more to the point, prove that they were never legally married,” she said, emphasizing the term, ‘legally’. “I’m quite sure they have adequate documentation to certify that they are legally husband and wife,” the Duke said, frustrated with what he must think is mindless banter. “Not if Lord Preston was still married at the time they wed,” she said. “My son only had two wives,” the Duke asserted. “Alex’s mother, and Sabrina Granger.” “I did not argue otherwise,” Mother said obliquely. “How can you prove that he was married at the time?” I asked her. “I know where Alex’s mother is,” she said, with a self-satisfied smile. There was a collective gasp when she made that announcement, one that silenced the room for a few seconds. “My mother?” Alex asked, truly shocked. “My mother has been dead for years.” “What kind of farce is this?” the Duke demanded, and seemed genuinely offended. That didn’t bother Mother at all. “It is no farce,” she said to the Duke. “Margaret Granger, formerly known as Lady Bridgemont, is alive as we speak.” “That isn’t possible,” Alex said. “She died when I was eight years old. I went to her funeral.” “How was she killed?” Mother asked him. “Margaret, or Maggie as we knew her, was killed in an automobile accident in Maryland, not terribly far from here,” the Duke said. “She was here visiting a friend.” “She was indeed,” Mother said, implying there was more to this ‘friend’ than we were being told. “But she was not killed in that accident.” “I stared at her casket, and watched them bury her,” Alex said sadly. Mary Ellen reached over and put her hand on his shoulder in a very loving way. I had always thought Mary Ellen would be a relatively callous wife, one with lots of lovers and treated Alex with disregard, but she genuinely seemed to care about him. “Was it an open casket?” Mother challenged. “It was not,” the Duke said, and was so flustered his somewhat pompous attitude had completely vanished. “So you are saying that Alex’s mother was injured, presumably severely, in this accident, but not killed?” I asked Mother. “Yes,” she said. “And then her death was faked, for whatever reason, and that would have seemingly been legitimated by having a huge funeral for her in Britain, attended by her young son,” I said. “Yes,” she said again. “And I suppose you’re going to produce her?” I asked, wondering if she’d actually do that. “I cannot teleport someone Wade,” she said. “That is beyond my powers.” “I wonder about that,” Matt said, with a bit of awe and admiration in his voice. We’d seen my mother’s plans and schemes for years, but it truly was impressive the way she could almost reach in and pull out a trump card to save a bad hand. “Alright, if my mother is alive, where is she?” Alex asked. I had rarely seen him lose his cool, but he was losing it now. He seemed to be a spark away from going on a ranting tirade. I’d only experienced that once, when we were a couple and had argued in San Francisco. It wasn’t a pretty sight. “Virginia,” Mother said. “She has been hospitalized here for several years.” “My mother is alive and in this very state,” Alex said, floundering. “Now I understand why I was supposed to be out of the picture,” Mother said, ignoring Alex’s meltdown. “That’s why they needed to get me out of the way.” “Because you know where Alex’s mother is?” I asked for clarity. “Yes,” she said. “And because you are good at figuring out these crazy schemes,” Matt added. “Evidently,” I said. “But if you had gone to rehab, you would only be gone for two to three months.” “I would suggest, then, that three months is their timeline to try and implement their plan,” Mother said. “You are suggesting that by the time you came out of rehab, Lady Preston would have eliminated Alex, Ricky, and the Duke, and securely enshrined her children as the heirs?” JP asked. “That is what I am suggesting,” Mother said. “I am just torn apart, worrying about what will happen to Ricky,” Mary Ellen said to Alex. “Can we go back and get him?” She had shown little in the way of maternal instincts, at least as far as I could tell, so her concern was either faked for a reason, or it reflected genuine feelings she’d buried deep within her. Worrying about his son seemed to pull Alex out of his emotional slide. “That may be part of the plan,” Jake said. “You just don’t know. The best strategy is to stay here, at least until tomorrow. You don’t want to go anywhere at night. Our plan should be to hunker down and make sure we’re well-defended.” His decision to bring in his three friends suddenly looked to be incredibly valuable and important. “If you will excuse me, I need to make a phone call,” the Duke said. “I will ensure Ricky’s safety.” “How will you do that?” Mary Ellen asked. “While I am not popular with the current government in Britain, I am on very good terms with Her Majesty the Queen, and on even better terms with His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh,” The Duke said. “In this situation, I am confident they will oblige me and watch out for my great-grandson.” My mind wandered off to a vision of Ricky in his crib, surrounded by several red-coated guards who stood there stoically, even as he threw toys or other things like that at them. I almost giggled, and that would never do in this situation, so I wrangled my mind back under control and focused on the conversation in front of me. “Just a moment,” Alex said, stopping the Duke even before he could start to hoist himself up out of his chair. “Did you know my mother is alive?” The Duke got agitated and angry, but then seemed to realize what a huge deal this was to Alex, and that mellowed him out considerably. “I did not,” he said. “This must have been my father’s doing, assuming that Mrs. Danfield is correct in her assertion.” “I think she’s being honest,” Nana said, referring to her daughter. “I did not mean to imply she wasn’t honest, I meant to imply that she was wrong,” the Duke said. “Now if you will excuse me.” He got up ponderously and went back to his room. “I would assume there is no record of their divorce,” I said, referring to Lord Preston and his first wife. “Why would there be, when she was supposedly dead?” Alex asked cynically. “I can’t believe my mother is alive, and I didn’t know. How is that possible?” “It seems as if your great grandfather solved the problem in his own way, whatever that problem was,” I said. I couldn’t help but think of how my mother had managed to have Nana committed to a nursing home for years just to get her out of the way, and evidently Nana had the same train of thought. “I’m going to go check on Albert,” she said, referring to the Duke, but there was no missing the evil glance she gave my mother. “Can you tell me where she’s at?” Alex asked my mother. “She is at a hospital in the country. I will give you all the information I have on her,” Mother said with a warm smile. She was being nice because she was proud of herself, and perhaps to build a better bond with her son in law. “I would be most grateful,” he said. “Why would they fake her death?” I asked. “She was comatose when admitted to the hospital she is at now, and there was no real hope then that she would recover,” Mother said. “They kept her alive with machines?” Matt asked. “They did,” Mother said. “It is very difficult to end the life of someone without prior directives, and to do so would have created an international firestorm. Virginia has a strong right to life organization, one that would have militantly fought any efforts to pull the plug.” “So why didn’t they just let her live? Why did they have to fake her death?” Alex asked. “I don’t know the answer to that question,” Mother said. “I can only assume that doing so would limit your father considerably. He could not have remarried without divorcing your mother.” Alex pondered that. “That would not have been pretty, a British Earl divorcing his wife, who was lying comatose in an American hospital.” “It would not,” Mother agreed. “And how did you find out about Margaret Granger?” I asked her. “I do not think that collective decision making requires that I disclose all of my sources,” she said. “If Sabrina Granger knows you have proof that Alex’s mother is alive, surely she would have made some allowance for that, and have some plan to counter it,” Stef noted. “Possibly,” Mother said. “I think it is likely that’s why she was getting me out of the picture, but I suppose there are other methods she could use.” “Like what?” Matt asked. “Like making sure that Alex’s mother really was dead, and erasing any record that she lived on or beyond the date they were married,” Brad said. “And making sure Elizabeth was also silenced, one way or another.” “So now, in addition to worrying about all of us here, and worrying about my son, I must now be concerned for my mother, who is possibly a few hundred kilometers away, and who I thought was dead until just minutes ago?” Alex demanded. The stress was clearly wearing away at his stoic veneer. “You must,” Mary Ellen said. “That is how things will be until we can get this resolved, one way or the other.” “One way or the other,” I repeated, even as I gave my mother a disapproving look.
  23. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 46

    I do live in St. Louis and the Hill is my favorite place for Italian food
  24. The prologue and first chapter of Northern Exposure, the newest story in the Bridgemont series, has been posted. Enjoy!
  25. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 10

    August 1800 HMS Valiant The Thames Granger boarded his ship, greeted by the standard honors he had become used to. “Welcome back, my lord,” Weston said cheerfully. Granger found his sadness at leaving home and his frustration with the mob vanish as he returned to this familiar milieu, and he was hit with Weston’s ever-present cheerfulness. “Thank you, Mr. Weston,” Granger responded. He looked beyond Weston and noticed another officer standing there, looking quite nervous. As he was wearing a lieutenant’s uniform, Granger gathered that this was his new second lieutenant, Edward Grenfell. It was impossible not to appreciate how handsome he was. He was about the same height as Granger, and as slim as Daventry, with a uniform cut in a very stylish way. His hair was a darker brown, almost as dark as Calvert’s, but without the reddish tints, and he had a long face with very engaging blue eyes. Without withering under Granger’s eye, the man stepped forward. “My lord, I’m Edward Grenfell. I’ve been appointed to Valiant.” “I was aware of your appointment, Mr. Grenfell, but I had expected you to arrive sooner,” Granger said severely. “I must beg your pardon for that, my lord. I arrived yesterday. I was up north, in Northumberland, and when my new orders caught up to me I made as much haste as possible,” the man said. He seemed truly contrite, so Granger relented. “As we are to sail shortly, your tales of your travels to Northumberland will have to wait for another time,” Granger said jovially, getting a smile from Grenfell. “I will be happy to entertain Your Lordship with tales of my journeys,” Grenfell said. Another man moved forward to introduce himself, but this man wasn’t nearly as attractive as Grenfell, and in fact he wasn’t attractive at all. He looked to be at least 50 years old, and was carrying about twice as much weight on his body as it had been designed to accommodate. His skin was leathery, and his face grizzled, giving him the look of an experienced mariner. “My lord, I’m Erasmus Schein,” he said, in an accent that seemed Germanic. “Welcome aboard Mr. Schein,” Granger said. “I am told that you know the Baltic like the back of your hand.” “I am not sure who told you that, my lord, but in that case, I don’t know the back of my hand all that well,” he said modestly, a characteristic Granger appreciated. “Well, in any event, you know it better than I do,” Granger said. “Welcome aboard.” “Thank you, my lord,” Schein said. “My lord, I’ve familiarized Mr. Grenfell and Mr. Schein with the ship, and they’ve both settled into the Wardroom,” Weston said. “I am glad to hear your good manners have not deserted you, Mr. Weston,” Granger said pleasantly. “As the tide will change in an hour, we will be sailing when that happens, provided our passengers manage to make it on board by then.” “You have but to give the order, my lord,” Weston said, which was as it should be. “Then I will leave you to make final preparations, while I go and see how well Winkler has organized my cabin,” Granger said. He walked directly aft, through the door that sealed off his world from the quarterdeck, and found his quarters set up much as they’d been when he’d originally sailed with Lord and Lady Elgin. On either side of the deck, two compartments had been created, while at the rear, the entire cabin was open, containing his huge dining table and hutch. “We’ve got things set up, my lord,” Winkler said, looking mildly exasperated. “I’ve set your cabin up here on the same side as Lord Frederick Cavendish, while I’ve put Lords Daventry and Whitworth on the opposite side.” “That’s excellent, Winkler,” Granger said. He walked into his sleeping cabin and noticed that there was a door there, the same one that was normally there when this other compartment served as his office. That made him smile, and fueled his libido, as he thought of Cavendish on just the other side of that door. He knocked, and when he heard Cavendish say “enter”, he did. “From the commotion, I figured you’d come aboard,” Cavendish said in a decidedly unfriendly way. “I have,” Granger said, somewhat surprised by his attitude. “Have you gotten orders to release me yet?” Cavendish asked. “I have not, and as we are to sail shortly, it seems you are to be stuck with us,” Granger said. “Quite frankly, I would have thought you would be happy to be sailing with us.” “This is no longer my life,” Cavendish said, referring to the world of the Navy. “You were not happy with your life ashore, yet when you were aboard one of His Majesty’s ships, I remember that your moods were much better. Perhaps you are exactly where you belong, you are just too short-sighted to see it,” Granger said, his tone progressing from factual to almost nasty. “I will leave you to mull it over.” He left Cavendish’s cabin, pausing briefly in his own to get his visage back to its previously cheerful demeanor. He really thought Cavendish would be happier about leaving London for a bit, and he really thought Cavendish would be happy to spend time with him at sea. As Granger saw it, he had saved Cavendish’s life and whisked him off to safety, risking some relatively nasty political repercussions for his efforts, and he’d done this even though Cavendish had avoided him as if he had the plague. He shook off his annoyance and puzzlement over Cavendish and went back on deck to see to their departure. No sooner had he arrived on the quarterdeck than Lord Whitworth pulled himself through the entry port. “Welcome aboard,” Granger said cheerfully, even as he went forward to greet him. “Thank you, Granger,” Whitworth said. “This is a damned convenient set up,” he said, referring to the gangway. “Indeed it is, and we have His Majesty to thank for it,” Granger said, remembering the party they’d thrown to host their sovereign. “Then once again, I am grateful for the favors he has done for me,” Whitworth said. He looked at the trunks that were being hauled aboard. “I fear I have brought a good deal of baggage with me Granger.” “We will find a place for it,” Granger said with a smile. “This ship’s design and modifications make storing things much easier.” “Indeed?” Whitworth asked curiously. “We have fitted iron water tanks into the ship, tanks that are designed to match her curved hull. Not only do they allow us to store our water in a much more efficient and compact way, they create a flat floor on which to stack things,” Granger said. “That has allowed us to dispense with iron shingles for ballast and stowage, and those two things have given Valiant much more space for stores.” “It appears I have indeed picked the right ship to take me to Copenhagen,” he said with a smile. “I hope that is true,” Granger said pleasantly. He looked at his watch and noticed that it was almost time for their departure, then looked up to see Daventry climbing through the entry port, followed by his two aides. “Welcome aboard,” Granger said. “I am glad to be here,” Daventry said then paused to greet Whitworth. “It is good to see you gentlemen again,” Granger said to Boles and McGillivray, Daventry’s assistants. “As it is to see you, my lord,” Boles replied for both of them. “While they are stowing your baggage, allow me to show you to your quarters,” Granger said to Daventry and Whitworth. He led them into Valiant’s great cabin, which was all-too-familiar to Daventry, and explained their sleeping and dining arrangements. “It was my intention for us to dine together this afternoon, and then we can sup with my officers and explain our mission.” “That would seem to be a reasonable plan,” Whitworth agreed. “Then while you gentlemen settle in, I will see to getting us underway,” Granger noted. “I will retire to my spacious cabin and luxuriate in the room you have provided me,” Daventry said with a grin. Granger strolled out onto the deck to find that Weston had things well in hand, and that he’d brought all the gear aboard. Stowing it would take a bit longer. Granger was impressed yet again by Weston, and what a competent officer he was. “We will sail immediately,” Granger announced. “I will give you the honor of conning us out of port,” he said to Weston. “Thank you, my lord,” Weston said, and was slightly stunned. Granger was placing quite a bit of confidence in his first lieutenant, and it was nice that Weston understood that. “Do try to keep us from running aground,” Granger teased. “Major Treadway, some music for our lads to work to!” “Aye aye, my lord,” Treadway said. He’d anticipated Granger’s order, and had his band assembled on the poop deck, so he had but to give the order for them to begin serenading Valiant’s crew and those ashore who paused to listen. Granger strode over to the side of the ship and gazed off at the city and the Tower of London, even as Valiant cast off her lines and was warped out into the channel. He acted disinterested as Weston conned the large ship slowly down the Thames, even though he was mentally noting every maneuver. Whitworth and Daventry kept him company, chatting about nothing of substance, as Valiant made her way down the Thames. Cavendish still hadn’t made an appearance; he’d remained sequestered in his cabin all by himself. It wasn’t until they reached the Nore that Granger was able to tear himself away to go dine with his esteemed guests. “That was well done, Mr. Weston,” Granger said, his voice emphasizing the praise in his words. “Thank you, my lord,” Weston said, grinning. “After we are off Margate, set a course east north-east,” Granger ordered. “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston responded. “Now that we are on our way, gentlemen, perhaps you would care to join me for dinner,” Granger said to Whitworth and Daventry. “With pleasure,” Whitworth answered for all of them. They went into the great cabin and found the dining room table set, and found Cavendish already waiting for them. “Cavendish!” Daventry said enthusiastically. “The last I heard, you were tempting bullets in duels.” “I seem to be a hard man to kill,” Cavendish said, trying to be upbeat. “A foolish man tempts fate too often,” Whitworth said in a scolding way. “As I recall, your duel precluded a very important meeting, one that we must now revisit.” “I did not ask for the intervention that interrupted your meeting, so I surely cannot be held accountable for that,” Cavendish said boldly, unwilling to be browbeaten by this distinguished diplomat. “Sometimes there is a silver lining to an evil event, and I think that in this case, we are fortunate that this whole affair has ended up with Cavendish on board, joining us for this mission,” Granger said, sticking up for Cavendish, even though he was annoyed with him. “That is your silver lining?” Whitworth challenged. “It is,” Granger said firmly. “I remember a few years back, after we had all but destroyed the Leopard off Imperia, I was so full of our success I hadn’t seen the obvious, that the French were trying to keep us engaged so they could bring superior forces to bear. Cavendish was the only one to keep a clear head, and but for him, I would probably still be languishing in a French jail somewhere.” “And His Most Catholic Majesty would be significantly richer,” Daventry joked, thinking that if Granger had been locked in a French jail he wouldn’t have captured the Galleon, or intercepted the Spanish Treasure Fleet. “Possibly,” Granger said, chuckling with him. “So I am happy to have such a cool and clear head to assist us, lest we let our own self-importance cloud our judgment.” His obvious jab at Whitworth infuriated the man, but Granger was following Cavendish’s lead, and standing up to him, suspecting that if he did not do so now, he would have a much more difficult time of things later on in their mission. “Thank you for your kind words,” Cavendish said to Granger in a friendly way, the first such interaction they’d had in months. “I am even more thankful that you have retained the services of Lefavre.” “Hear hear,” Daventry said. “Your chef is truly exceptional.” “I must agree,” Whitworth said, and in the way that often happened, Lefavre’s excellent cooking helped these four men work themselves into good cheer. After dinner Granger went back on deck to see to their progress, and stayed there until it was time for supper. It was strange to Granger that Cavendish was still sequestered below in his cabin, especially since the weather was so pleasant. He began to pace, even as he thought about the situation with Cavendish. He tried to figure the man out, and tried to decipher why he was so unhappy to be here. He had seemed miserable in England, and his letters had been all but despondent, yet now that he was gone, he was evidently more unhappy. He would trade potential death in a duel to be there? What would make him so determined to remain at home? Granger thought about Caroline’s revelation to him, about how politics was like a drug for her, but he didn’t think Cavendish was as engaged in that world as she was. It was also possible that he was worried about the King and his moods, and wanted to stay and support him. That motive had some merit, but Cavendish would be significantly wounded in the eyes of the King over this duel, so that alone would indicate that he wasn’t acting only to help his sovereign. “My lord, supper is ready,” Winkler said, interrupting Granger in the midst of his walk. Granger blinked once in surprise at being jarred out of his thoughts, then put his façade back on. “Quite so,” he said crisply. He returned to his cabin to await the arrival of his officers. They filed in at the prescribed time, and sat at the table, where Granger had put place cards to avoid the standard process where everyone sat in order of seniority and rank. He’d put his Sicilian midshipman, Prince Genarro, next to Whitworth, which had the effect of taming the arrogance of that sometimes haughty diplomat. “I fear that if we eat this well on the entire voyage, I will grow too fat for my breeches,” Whitworth said. “I will convey your compliments to my chef,” Granger said graciously. “Yet having a good chef is only part of the equation, Granger,” Daventry said with a smile. “The other part of that is having a charming host. In that regard, you would make the King’s fare seem pleasant.” “Hear hear!” said several of the men. “I fear you give me too much credit,” Granger said uncomfortably, “and I would worry that by taking away from his results, you would irritate my chef.” That got predictable laughs from most of them, since they were very aware of Lefavre’s temperament. “I usually host these events after sailing to inform you of our orders, and this occasion is no exception.” “I have deduced, based on our course, my lord, that we are not destined for India,” Weston said. His cheerful manner was such a tonic. “We are not,” Granger said, “and I applaud your ability to read maps.” That got a predictable laugh. “Thank you, my lord,” Weston said. “We are destined for the Baltic,” Granger said. “We are first tasked to deposit Lord Whitworth at Copenhagen.” “You make me sound like so much unwanted cargo,” Whitworth grumbled, pretending to be annoyed. “Your lordship is certainly not unwanted, but you have a bit of cargo with you,” Granger said, joking about Whitworth’s baggage. “As I am not sure how long I will be there, it seemed wise to arrive well equipped,” Whitworth said. “A prudent precaution and one we would expect from your lordship,” Granger said to Whitworth, making the man smile slightly. “After that, we are to convey Lord Daventry to St. Petersburg.” “Russia, sir?” Kingsdale asked, somewhat surprised. “Unless the Swedes or Germans have captured it, St. Petersburg is still part of Russia,” Granger said with a smile. “So we are to be nothing more than a glorified transport, my lord?” Weston asked. “And now I am feeling like cargo,” Daventry joked. Granger waited until the laughter died down. “Perhaps that is a more appropriate term to describe you than Lord Whitworth,” Granger joked, getting more laughter. “In fact, our mission may be quite hazardous.” “Sir?” Genarro asked, and then looked nervous for saying anything at this gathering. Granger gave him a supportive smile to let him know he was doing fine. “The Swedes, Danes, Russians, and many of the Northern German states have reconstituted their League of Armed Neutrality,” Granger informed them. “That means that we must consider any ship we encounter as probably hostile.” “How will we know which ships are hostile and which are not, my lord?” Weston asked. “You will have to approach them under a flag of truce,” Whitworth said, answering the question for Granger. “If they agree to parley, they will parley. If they do not, you will have to fight them.” “The fleets of those countries are quite significant, are they not, my lord?” Grenfell asked. “Indeed they are, so we must hope we can accomplish our goals without getting blown out of the water,” Granger joked. “When you are in Russia, especially if you have been admitted to a port, you will be safe,” Whitworth said. “At sea, it will be largely up to the admiral in charge as to how he handles you. Individual captains will be reluctant to risk a battle that could result in their being sanctioned.” “I can see why your lordship said this may be hazardous, my lord,” Treadway said. “Mr. Schein is here to help guide us through the navigational perils we face, and I suspect those will be more dangerous than enemy ships,” Granger said. “Sadly, my lord, you are correct,” Schein said. “The Baltic is a sea full of shoals, shallows, and sandbars, and it is made even more challenging by the fact that the sandbars shift around a bit.” “So a sandbar that was in one position last year, may now have moved into a different position this year?” Granger asked, unable to hide how much that worried him. “I think the shifts are not that dramatic, but over a period of years they most definitely change, my lord,” Schein said. “That makes charts that are more than a few years old somewhat unreliable.” “Then I am even more glad you are with us,” Granger said, then turned to Grenfell. “I am wondering, since all of your relatives and connections were mercilessly assaulting the Admiralty begging them to appoint you to a ship, why you were gallivanting about in Northumberland?” “Despite their efforts, I had feared my reputation with the Admiralty was so low that there was no hope for an immediate appointment, my lord,” Grenfells said. “You are woefully uninformed as to the Admiralty’s true opinion of you, Lieutenant,” Cavendish said, the first contribution he’d made to the conversation. “Indeed, my lord?” Grenfell asked. “I feared after my problems aboard Sceptre, my stock with Their Lordships had sunk to new lows.” “The Admiralty thinks that you are a talented and innovative officer,” Granger said. “You were posted to this ship because I am more tolerant of such progressive ideas.” That got a laugh from the table, since it was only too true. “His Lordship’s observation is quite accurate,” Cavendish said. Granger found that annoying, as if he required support in his arguments. As the captain of Valiant, he was the de facto autocratic ruler of this ship and her men. His word should be the definitive statement on a topic. “I would further note that your report on carronades, and how their aim is off, was taken quite seriously by Their Lordships.” “What did you discover about carronades?” Granger asked. “My lord, I did some testing, and found that the way carronades are aimed, they invariably fire low,” Grenfell said. “Indeed?” Granger asked curiously. “Now that you mention it, I remember when we last fired the smasher, our shot seemed to veer down,” Treadway mused. “So what is the solution to this problem?” Granger asked. “I developed a gun sight for the carronades aboard Sceptre, my lord,” Grenfell said. “The captain would not allow me to deploy them, but he did allow a limited test.” “Did they work?” Granger asked curiously. “They did. Since I’ve been ashore, I’ve done some more testing, my lord,” Grenfell said. “In fact, that’s why I was in Northumberland. There was a facility I could use. The sights worked well, but I was able to modify them to make them more accurate.” “Could you fit sights to our carronades?” “I could, my lord, if you would allow me to work with the gunner,” Grenfell said, smiling happily. “Then I would like you to do that, and then we can test them ourselves,” Granger said. “Experimenting with new-fangled technology is surely best left to those ashore or safely in port?” Whitworth asked. “On the contrary, at sea, when we are in action, that is when we need to have an edge the most,” Granger said. “And those are the times when we are best able to evaluate the performance of such a device.” “What happens if such an idea is dangerous and causes the loss of one of His Majesty’s ships and crews?” Whitworth challenged. “That is why the Admiralty gives some captains and admirals more discretion on this issue than others,” Cavendish said. “And that is one of the reasons why Lieutenant Grenfell serves on this ship and not a ship captained by an unimaginative man who will not open his mind to new ideas.” “Thank you, my lord,” Grenfell said, mostly to keep Whitworth from really lashing out at Cavendish. “As it is, we have been fortunate in that our experiments have been universally positive,” Granger said soothingly. “In this situation, we really do not have much to lose. If the sights do not work as planned, we can easily disregard them or remove them.” “How long will it take us to get to Copenhagen?” Whitworth asked, as if he were so annoyed he could not wait to land. “That will largely depend on the wind,” Granger said. Conversation became general and pleasant after that, but Granger was quite happy to see them go back to their cabins or their duties. He avoided further conversation with Whitworth by going on deck to inspect Valiant’s progress. He had been on deck for less than a minute when his mood began to change. It was a beautiful night, with balmy weather the likes of which one would expect to find in the Caribbean. The sky was clear, and the moon and stars were so bright it was almost like Granger could reach up and touch them. The calm seas lapped against Valiant’s sides as she made steady progress through the water, progress that was slow because the winds were so light. Yet it was those same light winds that made it so pleasant. “I had forgotten how pleasant a night at sea could be,” Cavendish said, as he came up and stood next to Granger. “Such beauty is deceptive, as a storm could be brewing just over the horizon,” Granger said with a smile. “I remember that weather as well,” Cavendish said with a grimace. “I sometimes long for this, for a ship of my own, to be able to be free of London and its entanglements.” “I find myself the most conflicted when I am getting ready for sea and when I am returning home,” Granger said. “Those are the times when the choices I make by leading this life come fully into play.” “I found coming home from a voyage to be the most disconcerting,” Cavendish admitted. “Why?” “It is as if you went to see a play with four acts, and you saw the first act, but missed the second act, and then you return while the third act is in progress,” he said. “And then, when the fourth act starts, you are expected to be a full participant, when you are still trying to decipher what you missed.” “I feel the same way, but I have never heard it put into such a comprehensible way,” Granger said. They walked over to the rail and gazed off toward the coast. “If I am not mistaken, that is Suffolk.” “It is ironic that your father owns so much land in Derbyshire, yet his dukedom is in Suffolk, where to my knowledge, he has limited holdings,” Cavendish joked. “And your father draws his title from a rock in the South Seas, and I would daresay he spends little time there,” Granger joked, getting a chuckle from Cavendish, one that ended abruptly. “He refuses to so much as talk to me,” Cavendish said sadly. “He is incensed that I have defied him by refusing to marry Miss Barnett.” “I was quite stunned by that news, that His Grace would wish to tie his family to a member of the Guild,” Granger said, letting his irritation show through. “It would appear that he places little value on my skills, and my person,” Cavendish said bitterly. “He is usually a very shrewd man, so it is strange to see him make such a huge error in judgment,” Granger said, smiling at Cavendish slightly to try to nudge him out of his bad mood. “If only he would see that he has made such an error,” Cavendish said morosely. “If His Majesty were his normal self, he could probably have helped smooth things over.” “He is not well?” Granger asked nervously. “The government and the gentlemen who surround the King would have everyone believe he is just fine, but he is showing signs of his sickness,” Cavendish said. “When I approached him on this topic, he suggested I confer with Lord Hertford.” “Lord Hertford?” Granger asked, surprised. The current Marquess of Hertford was a politician and a nice enough man, but Granger did not see why Cavendish should seek him out for advice. “He was referring to Lord Hertford’s father, who died in 1794, and was at one time the Lord Chamberlain,” Cavendish said. “That was under Lord North’s government, wasn’t it?” Granger asked. “It was.” “When I last saw him, he became agitated and asked me to send for Lord North,” Granger said. “It would seem that his mind has warped back some twenty years or so.” “Yet we are not back in the 1780s, so that makes things just a bit difficult,” Cavendish said cynically. “His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was less helpful.” “He did not step in and try to improve things with you and your father?” Granger asked, truly surprised. The Prince was known to be lazy and self-absorbed, but Granger had always thought, or perhaps hoped, that he’d step up and do better when it was his turn to wear the Crown. “He did not,” Cavendish said. “He told me he would, told me not to worry, and promised that he would speak to my father, but then he did nothing.” “Where does that leave you?” Granger asked. “I have been scrambling to try and figure out what I am to do, and where I am to live,” Cavendish said. “I got a letter from my father’s agent, informing me that I will no longer be receiving my allowance. That was substantially larger than my income from the Crown, so that has meant I must relinquish my rooms in the City and it means I will have to endeavor to still look spruce, even with worn clothes.” “You are always welcome in my home,” Granger asserted. “Why didn’t you go there?” “With all the drama we had, and the scandalous rumors that were flying around, I could not risk my reputation, or yours, or Caroline’s,” he said. He was referring to the nightmare where Caroline had seduced him and Treadway in the baths. “I would suspect that rumor has largely died off,” Granger said. He had encountered no evidence of it when he was home. “That is true, but if I move into your townhouse, and when you are gone I am there alone with Caroline, the wags will begin talking again. It will not require any facts, merely innuendo,” he said. Granger could readily see how that would happen. “Then I will help you lease suitable rooms,” Granger promised. “George, I cannot rely on your charity,” he said. “John Ward has allowed me to stay with him.” Those words flew through Granger’s psyche with the same force as if he’d been hit by lightning. So that’s why Cavendish didn’t want to leave England. He didn’t want to leave Ward. “That was very nice of him, to take you in when you had nowhere to go,” Granger said stoically. Before Cavendish could respond, Granger called to Grenfell, the officer of the watch. “Mr. Grenfell, can you explain why the foretopsail is so slack?” He used that comment to walk over to where Grenfell was standing. “I’ll attend to it immediately, my lord,” Grenfell said, horrified at being found wanting in his duties, even though the foretopsail hadn’t been so slack as to warrant a public censure. Granger waited until the sail was drawing as it should be, then went to his cabin, ignoring Cavendish who was still standing on the deck, where he could torture himself in solitude.
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